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Titan, clouds of methane and rivers of liquefied gas

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Scientists have eagerly awaited the first James Webb Space Telescope observations of Saturn’s distant moon because it hosts a surface surprisingly similar to that of Earth, with rivers, lakes and seas. That moment finally arrived on Nov. 4 with the Webb team revealing observations of two large methane clouds in Titan’s atmosphere, according to a NASA press release.

 

What we know so far about Titan, then, is that there may be some form of life on the moon, though it would likely be very different from Earth’s, given that its seas and rivers are made up of liquid methane. As NASA points out in its statement, “Titan’s atmosphere is filled with a thick haze that obscures visible light reflecting off the surface.” This made it the perfect candidate for infrared imaging tools by Webb, who can peer through the thick clouds and see what lurks beneath. NASA shared a series of reactions from scientists, shared via email, in its release. Sebastien Rodriguez, an astronomer at the Université Paris Cité who is working on the research, wrote: “At first glance, he is simply extraordinary. I think we are seeing a cloud!”. Eventually, the researchers realized that this was an unprecedented observation of not just one, but two clouds in Titan’s atmosphere. One of these was located above the Kraken Mare, the largest of the satellite seas. Finding clouds assumes the presence of seasonal weather patterns. “Detecting clouds is exciting because it validates computer model predictions of Titan’s climate that clouds would readily form in the northern hemisphere during late summer when the surface is warmed by the sun,” says Conor Nixon of Goddard. NASA Space Flight Center

 

  • Webb, Keck Telescopes Team Up to Track Clouds on Saturn’s Moon Titan. (blogs.nasa.gov)
 

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