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NASA’s Cassini has been watching Titan’s summer clouds, Details
- Updated: November 13, 2016
The Cassini Spacecraft has captured a time lapse video of methane clouds moving across the northern hemisphere of Titan. Titan is the largest moon of Saturn.
Cassini caught sight of the clouds in Titan’s northern hemisphere on Oct. 29 and 30. The spacecraft took a photo of the world every 20 minutes for 11 hours to see how the clouds move through the moon’s sky.
“Time-lapse movies like this allow scientists to observe the dynamics of clouds as they develop, move over the surface and fade,” NASA said in a statement.
The video has already revealed something unexpected about Titan’s clouds.
Scientists initially predicted that there should be more cloud activity on Titan than Cassini has seen this summer season, which means that NASA’s understanding of the moon’s climate is somewhat incomplete.
And learning more about Titan is important for our understanding of the solar system as a whole.
The strange, cold moon is the only other known place in the solar system that plays host to liquid seas and lakes on its surface. (A methane cloud can actually be seen as a moving spot between two lakes in the video.)
However, those lakes of liquid are distinctly alien when compared to the ones we’re familiar with on Earth.
Instead of seas of liquid water, Titan plays host to oceans of methane and ethane, two elements usually found in gas form on our planet.
Titan is also incredibly cold.
The highest temperature measured on the moon by Cassini is just minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit, minus 179.6 degrees Celsius, meaning that molecules take on different states on Titan than they likely would on most of Earth.
Titan isn’t the only place outside of Earth with transient clouds in its sky. For example, Mars also has visible wisps of clouds in its atmosphere.
Cassini, which has been exploring Saturn and its moon since it made it into the ringed planet’s orbit in 2004, should continue its mission until Sept. 15, at which point the spacecraft will make a planned crash into Saturn’s atmosphere, vaporizing the long-lived spacecraft.