A collaborative effort between the James Webb Space Telescope and WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii has produced new photos of large clouds on Saturn’s moon Titan, offering scientists a clearer picture of the atmospheric occurrence on the giant gaseous planet.
The science and other stuff to know
Saturn is the second largest planet in our Solar System and has a whopping 83 moons, but none is as awe-inspiring as the largest of them all, Titan, which dwarfs the planet Mercury in size.
According to the NASA press release, the clouds captured were present in Saturn’s northern hemisphere and adds validation to a long-held belief by scientists that across the Solar System, Titan has a climate that is most similar to Earth’s.
Conor Nixon, Principal Investigator of the Guaranteed Time Observation (GTO) program 1251 team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, led a team in early November that used the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to observe Titan near Kraken Mare, the largest known liquid sea of methane on the moon’s surface. They then asked for follow-up observations by the Keck Titan Observing Team.
“Detecting clouds is exciting because it validates long-held predictions from computer models about Titan’s climate that clouds would form readily in the mid-northern hemisphere during its late summertime when the surface is warmed by the Sun,” Nixon was quoted by a Keck press release as saying.
The teams were able to track the movements of clouds between November 4 and 6, as they moved into and away from the field of view from the Earth owing to planetary rotation.
The latest images are important in two aspects. One, they offer scientists validations of their understanding of the dynamics on Saturn’s surface, and two, tracking clouds’ motion offer insight into how air is flowing within Titan’s atmosphere.
Moreover, wind speeds on Saturn can go as high up as 1,800 km/h (1,100 mph), so tracking could help scientists understand how changes on Titan affect the atmospheric and climactic events of its parent planet.
The James Webb and Keck teams will continue observations of Titan and decoding the data constantly being gathered. Titan is the only lunar object in our Solar System with a dense atmosphere, and the only one besides Earth to have clear evidence of liquid rivers, lakes, and oceans.
With James Webb’s ability to look further into space more than ever before, astronomers can expect their understanding of the terrestrial world to only expand. The present era of space exploration is underway at a truly astounding pace, and new discoveries are certain to keep astronomers as well as those interested in astronomy quite entertained.