On November 4, 2022, the NIRCam instrument on board the James Webb Space Telescope took pictures of Saturn's moon Titan. Left: Image made with the 2.12-micron F212N filter, which is sensitive to Titan's lower atmosphere. Significant clouds in the northern hemisphere are the bright patches. Right: Color composite image made with the following NIRCam filters: Brightness = F210M, Blue = F140M, Green = F150W, and Red = F200W. (2.09 microns). Kraken Mare, which is believed to be a methane sea, Belet, which is made up of dark-colored sand dunes, and Adiri, which is a bright albedo feature, are three significant surface features that are labelled.
Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and A. Pagan (STScI), Webb Titan GTO Team.
December 01, 2022
Titan is the only known object in the solar system other than Earth that currently possesses rivers, lakes, and seas. It is also the only moon in the Solar System with a dense atmosphere. The liquid on Titan's surface, in contrast to Earth, is made up of hydrocarbons such as methane and ethane rather than water. It has a dense haze in its atmosphere that blocks out visible light bouncing off the surface.
The second largest moon in our solar system, Titan is bigger than Mercury. Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter, is slightly bigger (by about 2 percent). Titan's atmosphere is primarily composed of nitrogen, just like Earth's, but it has a surface pressure that is 50% higher. Titan has liquid hydrocarbons like methane and ethane in its rivers, lakes, seas, clouds, rain, and atmosphere. The greatest seas are hundreds of miles across and several hundred feet deep. More liquid—an ocean made primarily of water as opposed to methane—lies beneath Titan's thick water ice layer. Titan's subterranean water might support life as we know it, while its liquid hydrocarbon lakes and seas might support life that has a distinct chemistry.
As strange as Titan may seem, it really ranks among the solar system's most livable planets in certain aspects. The nitrogen atmosphere of Titan is so dense that a person could wander about without a pressure suit. However, he or she would require an oxygen mask and clothing to withstand the cold since Titan's surface has a temperature of about minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 179 Celsius). Raindrops would fall more slowly on Titan than they would on Earth due to the planet's dense atmosphere and gravity that is similar to that of the Moon. Scientists have predicted that rain on Titan falls at roughly 3.5 miles per hour (1.6 metres per second), or about six times more slowly than Earth's rain, which falls at a rate of about 20 miles per hour (9.2 metres per second). Raindrops from Titan can also get rather enormous. Raindrops on Earth can grow to a maximum diameter of 0.25 inches (6.5 millimetres), whereas raindrops on Titan can grow to a maximum diameter of 0.37 inches (9.5 millimetres), which is around 50% larger than an Earth raindrop.
The infrared vision of Webb has been eagerly anticipated by researchers who want to investigate Titan's atmosphere, especially its interesting weather patterns and gaseous composition, as well as albedo characteristics (bright and dark patches) on the surface. In May or June of 2023, additional Titan data from NIRCam and NIRSpec are anticipated, as well as the first data from Webb's Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). The MIRI data will make much more of Titan's spectrum visible, including some hitherto unseen wavelengths. This will provide key hints for understanding why Titan is the only moon in the Solar System with a dense atmosphere in addition to information about the intricate gases in Titan's atmosphere.
The James Webb Telescope is one of the most important observatories for space science in the world. Webb will investigate the mystifying architecture and origins of our cosmos and our part in it while also looking beyond our solar system to faraway planets surrounding other stars. The European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency are partners in the international Webb program, which is run by NASA.