Cassini Capture Image of Methane in Titan's Clouds

Astronomy Science ~ NASA's Cassini spacecraft has identified high methane ice cloud in the stratosphere large moon of Saturn, Titan. ...

Astronomy Science ~ NASA's Cassini spacecraft has identified high methane ice cloud in the stratosphere large moon of Saturn, Titan.

"The idea that a high methane clouds may form on Titan is completely new," lead study author Carrie Anderson, a Cassini scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement.

Anderson and his colleagues see methane clouds hovering over the north pole of Titan in images taken by Cassini in December 2006, when it is winter in the northern hemisphere of Titan. (Currently, Titan's northern hemisphere shifting from spring to summer.)

This image taken by the Cassini spacecraft in 2006 that showed a cloud of methane in the stratosphere above the north pole of Saturn's moon
Researchers have seen methane clouds on Titan before, but in the troposphere, the lowest part of the atmosphere thick nitrogen-rich. Though thin clouds of ethane and some other materials have been observed in the stratosphere, the area is regarded as a place that was not cold enough to support the existence of methane clouds. (The formation of clouds requires colder temperatures at higher altitudes, because higher air contains less moisture, the researchers said.)

This view was based on previous measurements were taken in the southern hemisphere equator of Titan, the stratospheric temperature of around minus 333 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 203 degrees Celsius). But the newer the data Cassini showed that Titan's stratosphere is uneven, with the lowest temperature of about minus 344 F (minus 209 C) somewhere, the researchers said. And cold patch cold enough to form ice particles methane. Section cold as it was cold enough to form ice particles methane.

Methane clouds probably formed when relatively warm air rises into the stratosphere of the southern hemisphere of Titan's surface, where it is summer in December 2006, and subsequently circulated to the northern polar region and sink back to the bottom, where cooling occurred. The mechanism can produce methane clouds at an altitude of 19-31 km range (30 to 50 kilometers), the researchers said.

The same mechanism was behind the formation of stratospheric clouds on Earth, which is the only object in the solar system other than Titan is known to have liquid on its surface unstable. But of course, the earth's weather system is based on water rather than hydrocarbons.

The new study was published last month in the journal Icarus.
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Astronomy Science: Cassini Capture Image of Methane in Titan's Clouds
Cassini Capture Image of Methane in Titan's Clouds
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