Dust Storms Spotted on Saturns Moon Titan

first_imgStay on target Hubble Captures Saturn’s ‘Phonograph Record’ Ring SystemTonight: See Saturn at Its Best and Brightest for the Year NASA’s Cassini spacecraft revealed what appear to be giant dust storms on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.The discovery, described in a paper published by the journal Nature Geoscience, makes Titan the third Solar System body—along with Earth and Mars—where dust storms have been observed.The meteorological phenomenon, common in arid regions (like North Africa and the Arabian peninsula), arises when a strong wind blows loose sand and dirt from a dry surface.Extraterrestrial gales, meanwhile, can extend so far as to encircle an entire planet, with wind speeds reaching as high as 60 mph.“Titan is a very active moon,” lead study author Sebastien Rodriguez, an astronomer at the Université Paris Diderot in France, said in a statement.“We already know that about its geology and exotic hydrocarbon cycle,” he continued. “Now we can add another analogy with Earth and Mars: the active dust cycle in which organic dust can be raised from large dune fields around Titan’s equator.”Discovered in 1655 by Christiaan Huygens, Titan is 50 percent larger than Earth’s satellite, and 80 percent more massive.Quite similar to our own globe, the planet-like orb is the only moon known to have a dense atmosphere and the only celestial body (other than Earth) where stable regions of surface liquid is known to still exist.This compilation of images from nine Cassini flybys of Titan in 2009 and 2010 captures three instances when clear bright spots suddenly appeared in images (via NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University Paris Diderot/IPGP)There is one important difference: Earth’s rivers, lakes, and seas are filled with water, while Titan’s liquid reservoirs are primarily methane and ethane.During the flow of these natural gases, hydrocarbon molecules evaporate, condense into clouds, and rain back onto the ground, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).Titan’s weather becomes even more unpredictable around the equinox—when the Sun crosses the equator—as massive clouds can form in tropical regions, causing powerful methane storms, some of which the retired Cassini spacecraft observed during flybys.The equatorial brightenings seen in infrared images taken around the moon’s 2009 northern equinox were initially thought to be methane clouds. But researchers dismissed that and other theories (frozen methane rain, icy lavas), eventually landing on the explanation that the spots were actually clouds of dust.It takes more than a light gust, though, to kick up enough soot to be seen from space. Wind speeds would need to be about five times stronger than average estimates, suggesting the giant dunes covering Titan’s equatorial regions are still active and continually changing.Saturn’s largest moon made headlines this summer when researchers discovered that Titan has all the ingredients to produce life as we know it.You’ll want to hang this high-res image of Saturn’s moon on your wall, alongside Google Maps’ celestial imagery of the Ringed Planet’s satellites. Read more about Saturn and its moons here.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.last_img

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