Monday, July 30, 2018

SOFIA Observations Characterize the Atmosphere of Titan Showing How It Is Evolving

Titan's halo. Credit: NASA

At 11:09 p.m. on July 19, 2018 (Western Australia Time), Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, passed in front of a distant star, creating an eclipse. That eclipse was visible on Earth as a shadow that passed across a narrow strip of land and ocean. This rare astronomical event lasted a total of only 4 minutes.

The camera on NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), whose science operations are managed by Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia MD, captured this event as it flew through the shadow. Using precision flying and its cutting-edge instrumentation, SOFIA was able to characterize the atmosphere of Titan. SOFIA was not alone in taking advantage of this rare event. The Zadko telescope of the University of Western Australia was also able to capture this eclipse.

SOFIA’s observations clearly demonstrate that the atmosphere on Titan has evolved since the last such measurement in 2003, attesting to the dynamic climate on this fascinating planetary body.

SOFIA is the largest airborne observatory in the world, capable of making observations that are impossible for even the largest and highest ground-based telescopes.

SOFIA is an 80/20 partnership of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), consisting of an extensively modified Boeing 747SP aircraft carrying a 2.7-meter (106-inch) reflecting telescope (with an effective diameter of 2.5 meters or 100 inches).

The observatory is based at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center's Hangar 703 in Palmdale, California. NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley manages SOFIA's program, science and mission operations in cooperation with the USRA and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI; University of Stuttgart).


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