Researchers Discover Evidence Of Fresh Rain On Saturn’s Moon Titan

Posted: Jan 19 2019, 12:43pm CST | by , in Latest Science News


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Researchers Discover Evidence of Fresh Rain on Saturn’s Moon Titan
Titan’s north pole as seen by the Cassini Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer. The orange box shows wet, reflective surface. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Idaho.

Rainfall signals the beginning of changing season on Titan's north pole.

Using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, researchers have found evidence of methane rainfall on the north pole of Saturn’s largest moon Titan. The rainfall is an indication that Titan’s northern hemisphere is experiencing seasonal changes and these changes are causing dramatic effect on the moon’s surface.

Apart from Earth, Titan is the only body in or Solar System known to have liquid reservoirs and dense atmosphere. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft which was active through the years 2004 through 2017 allowed researchers to observe the pattern of seasonal changes on Titan in exquisite detail. Based on June 7, 2016 Cassini image, researchers have identified a reflective feature near Titan's north pole. The feature covered approximately 46,332 square miles, roughly half the size of the Great Lakes and did not appear on any other image from Cassini's 13-year mission.

The overall brightness, spectral characteristics and geologic context suggest that the feature is the result of sunlight reflecting off a wet surface. The reflection is attributed to a methane rainfall event, followed by a probable period of evaporation. Previous computer simulations of Titan's atmosphere also predicted that clouds would increase in the north as summer approached, but the expected cloud cover has not been observed. The lack of cloud activity has baffled researchers.

"The whole Titan community has been looking forward to seeing clouds and rains on Titan's north pole, indicating the start of the northern summer, but despite what the climate models had predicted, we weren't even seeing any clouds," said lead author Rajani Dhingra from University of Idaho in Moscow. “People called it the curious case of missing clouds."

This reflective surface represents the first observations of summer rainfall on the moon's northern hemisphere - something impossible to achieve before Cassini mission. For several years after Cassini's 2004 arrival in the Saturn system, researchers frequently observed Titan and designed models of its atmosphere.

"We want our model predictions to match our observations. This rainfall detection proves Cassini's climate follows the theoretical climate models we know of," said Dhingra. "Summer is happening. It was delayed, but it's happening. We will have to figure out what caused the delay, though."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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