It's Fall on Titan: Icy Cloud Marks Saturn Moon's Season
New photos from NASA's Cassini spacecraft show that an icy cloud is growing over the south pole of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, hinting that a seven-year fall has taken hold at the cloudy moon's southern realm.
Scientists are not sure what the budding cloud is made of, but the same icy haze has been clearing over Titan's north pole, where it is currently springtime.
"We associate this particular kind of ice cloud with winter weather on Titan, and this is the first time we have detected it anywhere but the north pole," Donald E. Jennings, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said in a statement. The research by Jennings and his colleagues is based on observations with the composite infrared spectrometer (CIRS) on the Cassini probe, which has been studying Saturn for nearly a decade. [Amazing Photos of Saturn's Moon Titan]
Titan is the second-largest moon in the solar system and the only one with clouds and a dense, planet-like atmosphere. Earlier observations by Cassini showed that warm air from Titan's southern hemisphere was rising high in its atmosphere and then being dumped over the moon's north pole, where it cooled and descended, forming an icy cloud. (The pattern is similar to the Hadley cell on Earth, which transports heat from the tropics to the subtropics.)
The new Cassini observations suggest this large-scale pattern of air flow over Titan has reversed direction, and winter is coming for the moon's southern hemisphere.
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