A rare celestial event was captured by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory as Titan — Saturn’s largest moon and the only moon in the Solar System with a thick atmosphere — crossed in front of the X-ray bright Crab Nebula. The X-ray shadow cast by Titan allowed astronomers to make the first X-ray measurement of the extent of its atmosphere.
On January 5, 2003, Titan transited the Crab Nebula, the remnant of a supernova explosion that was observed to occur in the year 1054. Although Saturn and Titan pass within a few degrees of the Crab Nebula every 30 years, they rarely pass directly in front of it.
"This may have been the first transit of the Crab Nebula by Titan since the birth of the Crab Nebula," said Koji Mori of Pennsylvania State University in University Park, and lead author on an Astrophysical Journal paper describing these results. "The next similar conjunction will take place in the year 2267, so this was truly a once in a lifetime event."
Steve Roy | MSFC
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