Thursday, June 04, 2009

Titan's Indian Summer

Summer on Titan lasts more than seven years. The Cassini probe has been monitoring changes in the atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon for three and a half years, and now, with equinox approaching, the seasons are about to turn in the southern hemisphere. But images from Cassini's last flyby of Saturn's largest moon show that clouds of liquid methane formed by convection driven by the heat of the sun (just as rain clouds are formed on Earth) are dispersing more slowly than expected and autumn may prove to be warmer and wetter than climate models predicted. Those models are based on very partial and incomplete data, of course, but isn't it amazing that we have learned so much about this strange smog-shrouded moon so quickly? Before Cassini's arrival we didn't even know whether the surface of Titan was solid, or covered from pole to pole in oceans of liquid methane and ethane. Now, we're receiving regular updates on changes in its weather.


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