Extreme Methane Rainstorms Detected On Saturn’s Largest Moon Titan

Posted: Oct 20 2017, 6:23am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Extreme Methane Rainstorms Detected on Saturn’s Largest Moon Titan
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Researchers have found that methane rainstorms are playing a key role in shaping Titan's icy surface

Of all the moons in our solar system, Titan is the only one known to have liquids flowing across its surface, making it in some ways similar to our Earth. But unlike Earth, Titan’s liquid reservoirs are made up of methane, not water. And much of this has to do with surprisingly intense methane rainstorms that occur more frequently than the scientists anticipated.

Titan, Saturn's largest moon, experiences extreme methane rainstorms once every year, which is 29 and a half years here on Earth.

“I would have thought these would be once-a-millennium events, if even that," said lead researcher Jonathan Mitchell from University of California, Los Angeles."So this is quite a surprise."

Researchers have also found that Titan’s methane rainstorms may affect the moon's icy surface in a way more like that extreme rainstorms shape Earth's rocky surface. On Earth, intense storms form cone-shaped features called alluvial fans. Alluvial fans are created when flowing waterfalls into low lands and interact with sediments. In the latest study, researchers have found that regional patterns of extreme rainfall on Titan are consistent with the detections of alluvial fans on the moon, suggesting that the intense rainstorms are likely playing a key role in transformingTitan’s icy surface.

Titan's alluvial fans were detected by scientific instruments on the Cassini spacecraft, which studied Saturn’s system for 13 years. The mission came to an epic end last month when the spacecraft crashed and burned into the planet’s atmosphere.

Researchers have found that the alluvial fans are mostly located between 50 and 80 degrees latitude, slightly closer to the poles than to the equator.

Although researchers have had kept their eyes on Titan’s surface for many years, no previous study had investigated the behavior of extreme rainfalls on moon or shown their connection to surface observations A better understanding of the relation between precipitation and the planetary surfaces could lead to more insight into the impact of climate change on Earth and other planets.

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