It is not a failure: James Webb telescope records a blurry image of Titan, one of Saturn’s moons

NASA ‘s James Webb Space Telescope  revealed a new image of Titan and raised alarms about its performance because of how blurry it appears.


James Webb , NASA ‘s space telescope , raised concerns among technology enthusiasts as it showed new images of Titan , one of Saturn ‘s moons , appearing hazy. Although those interested in astronomy thought that the observatory was malfunctioning, scientists from the space agency in charge clarified that the appearance of the photograph is due to the enormous presence of clouds on these satellites.

The members of the team responsible for the discovery expressed their excitement after the space telescope recorded the new images of Titan. Sebastien Rodriguez , leader of the NASA team in charge of the photographs, mentioned the following: “What a wake up this morning (Paris time)! Lots of alerts in my inbox! I have gone directly to my computer and started downloading the data. At first glance, it is simply extraordinary! I think I see a cloud!” .

For her part, Heidi Hammel -another member of the group- mentioned: “Fantastic! I love seeing the cloud and the obvious albedo markings. So I’m looking forward to seeing the specters! Congratulations to all the team!!! Thank you!” .

A new look at Titan

Titan shares certain characteristics with Earth . On the one hand, it has emerged lands of ice composed of water as well as rivers and lakes of methane as well as other hydrocarbons and an atmosphere with methane clouds . It is precisely the latter that stands out in the images. Two of these can be seen at the top of Saturn’s moon.

The first, called cloud A , is fainter while the other, called cloud B , has a more marked presence. In the images, another similar structure can be seen in a kind of mist that has not been correctly identified. Although the photographs were generated with the same data obtained from the NIRCam , the views are different due to the different filters they use. One shows the lower layers of its atmosphere while the other shows the moon as a whole, including its surface.

After locating the clouds, the research team used the Keck telescope , located in Hawaii, to track them. Now that they knew exactly where to look, the astronomers looked at Titan again after a few days and could see that the structures were moving, which one would expect from clouds in the atmosphere. “We were concerned that the clouds were gone when we looked at Titan two days later with Keck, but to our delight there were clouds in the same positions, which appeared to have changed shape ,” the scientists said.

The future of Titan observation and exploration

Due to the high demand for the James Webb by the multiple teams of researchers from NASA and its allies, the observation of Titan can only access 15 hours of use of this space telescope for this year. Therefore, the team will have to wait until 2023 to be able to use the observatory again using its advanced instruments such as NIRCam and NIRSpec .

The telescope’s future work on this observation will consist of analyzing the marks that components of the atmosphere leave on the spectrum of light passing through Titan ‘s atmosphere one by one. Saturn ‘s moon is one of the places that attracts the most attention within our Solar System along with other similar celestial bodies such as Europa or Enceladus . In the case of Titan, its structure so similar to that of Earth and the abundance of hydrocarbons on its surface make it a perfect candidate for more dedicated exploration.