Titan (or Saturn VI) – Saturn’s largest moon – has been experiencing a huge ice storm composed of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. The weather on Titan indicates a pretty long and cold winter, according to astronomers.
NASA’s Cassini-Huygens spacecraft spotted a massive ice cloud above Titan’s stratosphere. Astronomers estimate that the ice cloud will lower the temperatures on Saturn’s moon to about minus 238 degrees Fahrenheit (114.44 degrees Celsius).
The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft used technologically advanced instruments that use thermal wavelengths to ‘see’, which are invisible to the human eye.
A winter season on Titan lasts approximately 7.5 Earth calendar years, researchers say. However, the new ice cloud that hovers above the moon will make the winter season last even longer than usual.
In 2012, another could was spotted above Titan, but the newly discovered cloud – with an infrared instrument aboard NASA’s Cassini-Huygens spacecraft – is situated about 60 miles (96.56 kilometres) lower than the previous cloud. Even when Cassini’s mission ends in 2017, Titan will still be surrounded by the ice cloud, and will still be in the winter season, according to NASA.
Dr. Carrie Anderson, an associate chief of the Planetary Systems Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland said that she and other astronomers were taken aback by the ice cloud, because it looked like nothing they had ever seen before.
Out of Saturn’s 62 moons, Titan is by far the most fascinating. Titans also has stable liquid on its surface, and scientists have long speculated that it may host alien life (however much different form that on Earth).
The ice-cloud is essentially a smog-like formation of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen compounds, the researchers found. Scientists believe that this is a new ice cloud and that is has not evolved from previous clouds, due to its unique characteristics.
Dr. Robert Samuelson, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland working with Anderson said that seeing the early stages of winter on Titan was very exciting. Based on the recent data, Titan’s northern winter appears to be a lot more tamed that its southern winter, Dr. Samuelson added.
Image Source: ledgergazette