Thursday, January 29, 2009

I'm Only Happy When It Rains! (on Titan)

Recent images of Titan from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft affirm the presence of lakes of liquid hydrocarbons by capturing changes in the lakes brought on by rainfall.

For several years, Cassini scientists have suspected that dark areas near the north and south poles of Saturn’s largest satellite might be liquid-filled lakes. An analysis published today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters of recent pictures of Titan's south polar region reveals new lake features not seen in images of the same region taken a year earlier. The presence of extensive cloud systems covering the area in the intervening year suggests that the new lakes could be the result of a large rainstorm and that some lakes may thus owe their presence, size and distribution across Titan’s surface to the moon’s weather and changing seasons.

The high-resolution cameras of Cassini’s Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS) have now surveyed nearly all of Titan’s surface at a global scale. An updated Titan map, being released today by the Cassini Imaging Team, includes the first near-infrared images of the leading hemisphere portion of Titan’s northern "lake district” captured on Aug. 15-16, 2008. (The leading hemisphere of a moon is that which always points in the direction of motion as the moon orbits the planet.) These ISS images complement existing high-resolution data from Cassini’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) and RADAR instruments.

Such observations have documented greater stores of liquid methane in the northern hemisphere than in the southern hemisphere. And, as the northern hemisphere moves toward summer, Cassini scientists predict large convective cloud systems will form there and precipitation greater than that inferred in the south could further fill the northern lakes with hydrocarbons.

Way kewl! I am really excited about what this Titanian summer might bring!

Hat tip to The Gish Bar Times.

No comments: