Just days after a new study revealed that Cassini’s data has helped find methane-filled canyons hundreds of meters deep on Saturn’s moon Titan, a new time-lapse video from NASA reveals that methane clouds form, move and fade over the moon’s surface.
The latest time-lapse video [embedded below] has been put up together by stringing various images of Titan taken by Cassini’s narrow-angle camera using infrared filters every 20 minutes. As shown in the video, several sets of methane clouds develop and fade over the course of the period during which the moon was monitored in October.
If we drift for a while on the study about methane-filled canyons that was published at the end of October, it is the first direct evidence of such features on Titan and according to the team behind the study, it could give scientists insights into Titan’s origins and similar geologic processes on Earth. The new findings suggest the canyons were likely carved by liquid methane draining into Vid Flumina, a process similar to the carving of river gorges on Earth, according to the study’s authors. The new research could help scientists better understand these geological processes, they said.
Fast forward to the time-lapse video that NASA released recently, and scientists have at their disposal a much better perspective of what’s going on at Titan as far as cloud dynamics go. The data from the previous study and from the latest time-lapse movie could help NASA to garner a greater understanding about Titan – a possible target for future space missions.
If we check out the video, there are many clouds that can be seen – the most prominent ones are the long cloud streaks that lie between 49 and 55 degrees north latitude. While the general region of cloud activity is persistent over the course of the observation, individual streaks appear to develop then fade. These clouds are measured to move at a speed of about 14 to 22 miles per hour (7 to 10 meters per second), NASA notes.
We can also see quite a few small clouds over the region of small lakes farther north, including a bright cloud between Neagh Lacus and Punga Mare, which fade over the course of the movie. NASA has calculated that these small clouds are moving at speeds of about 0.7 to 1.4 miles per hour (1 to 2 meters per second).
This is not the first time that Cassini has spotted such clouds. Earlier this year, the spacecraft has intermittently spotted clouds across the northern mid-latitudes of Titan, as well as within the north polar region — an area known to contain numerous methane/ethane lakes and seas see PIA19657 and PIA17655. However, most of this year’s observations designed for cloud monitoring have been short snapshots taken days, or weeks, apart. This observation provides Cassini’s best opportunity in 2016 to study short-term cloud dynamics. The mission will continue monitoring Titan’s weather around the 2017 summer solstice in Titan’s northern hemisphere.
Models of Titan’s climate have predicted more cloud activity during early northern summer than what Cassini has observed so far, suggesting that the current understanding of the giant moon’s changing seasons is incomplete.