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article imageSaturn transitions into spring weather; Titan rains methane

By Andrew Moran     Mar 22, 2011 in Science
Pasadena - The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Cassini spacecraft garnered photos of Saturn's largest satellite, Titan, changing seasons. The images captured darkened clouds raining methane on its equatorial deserts.
As parts of the world enter spring with the sun shining, the temperatures rising and bugs crawling out of the ground, April showers on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is raining methane on its equatorial deserts.
According to a NASA press release, published images from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on Sept. 27, 2010, are showing scientists large cloud systems that have darkened Titan’s surface because they are wet after intense methane rainstorms.
Originally, scientists concluded that Titan’s equatorial region was mostly dry – and its north and south poles were filled with methane lakes – but the darkness of clouds and methane rain has proved otherwise, noted Space.com.
The Titan cloud formations are similar to the Earth’s cycle, but instead of water, it rains methane. Furthermore, the methane storms fill the lakes on Titan. Although scientists believe that other liquids have appeared on the satellite, researchers have only been able to observe methane and ethane.
A huge arrow-shaped storm blows across the equatorial region of Titan in this image from NASA s Cass...
A huge arrow-shaped storm blows across the equatorial region of Titan in this image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, chronicling the seasonal weather changes on Saturn's largest moon.
NASA
“It's amazing to be watching such familiar activity as rainstorms and seasonal changes in weather patterns on a distant, icy satellite,” said Cassini imaging team associate at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Md., and lead author of the published images Elizabeth Turtle, reports the Wall Street Journal. “These observations are helping us to understand how Titan works as a system, as well as similar processes on our own planet."
The Saturn system already experienced its equinox in Aug. 2009 – the sun lies over the planet’s equator (one full Earth year is 30 years on Saturn).
“It is patently clear that there is so much more to learn from Cassini about seasonal forcing of a complex surface-atmosphere system like Titan's and, in turn, how it is similar to, or differs from, the Earth's,” said Cassini imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute, Carolyn Porco. “We are eager to see what the rest of Cassini's Solstice Mission will bring."
More about Saturn, Titan, Methane, spring showers, NASA
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