Sign up for CNN’s Wonder Theory science newsletter. Explore the universe with news about fascinating discoveries, scientific advances and more.
The James Webb Space Telescope has discovered one of the most interesting moons in our solar system: clouds.
In November, the space observatory turned its infrared line of sight to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. It is the only moon in the solar system with an atmosphere four times denser than Earth’s.
Titan’s atmosphere is made up of nitrogen and methane, giving it a dull orange appearance. This thick haze obscures the visible light reflected from the Moon’s surface, making feature identification difficult.
The Webb telescope will look at the universe in infrared light, invisible to the human eye. On November 5th, the telescope spotted a bright cloud in Titan’s northern hemisphere and detected her second cloud in the atmosphere shortly thereafter.
The larger cloud was over Titan’s arctic region near the Kraken Sea, the largest liquid ocean of methane known on the moon’s surface.
Titan’s surface is a liquid object similar to Earth, but its rivers, lakes, and oceans are made of liquid ethane and methane, which form clouds and cause rain to fall from the sky. Researchers also believe that Titan has oceans of liquid water inside.
“The cloud detection validates long-standing predictions from computer models of Titan’s climate that clouds readily form in the mid-Northern Hemisphere at the end of summer when the surface is warmed by the Sun. “It’s very exciting to examine the NASA Webb Blog.
Nixon is also a principal investigator About Titan’s Webb Observation Program.
A team of astronomers studying web observations contacted colleagues at WM Keck Observatory In Hawaii, we will see if follow-up observations can reveal whether the clouds are moving or changing shape.
“When I saw Titan from Keck two days later, I was worried that the clouds were gone, but fortunately there were clouds in the same position and it looked like it had changed shape,” Imke said. De Pater, professor emeritus, said he is an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, and the leader of the Keck Titan observation team.
Atmospheric modeling experts helped the team determine that the two telescopes observed Titan’s seasonal weather patterns.
Webb’s near-infrared spectrograph was also able to collect data on Titan’s lower atmosphere, which ground-based observatories cannot see. At various wavelengths in the infrared, such as Keck due to interference from the Earth’s atmosphere.
The data, still under analysis, allowed us to see deeper into Titan’s atmosphere and surface than the Cassini spacecraft, which orbited Saturn and its moons for 13 years. Webb’s observations may also reveal the cause of a bright feature at Titan’s south pole.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen clouds.
“We’ve waited years to use Webb’s infrared vision to study Titan’s atmosphere, including its fascinating weather patterns and gas composition, and look through the haze to study surface albedo features.” said Nixon, referring to the bright and dark areas. .
“Titan’s atmosphere is of great interest not only for the methane clouds and storms, but also for what it tells us about Titan’s past and future, including whether it has always had an atmosphere. We are very pleased with the initial results.”
The team plans further observations of Titan in June that may provide additional information about gases in the atmosphere.