Weather Report From Titan: It’s Raining Methane (Hallelujah)
- What’s the News: Images sent back from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft depict storm clouds and methane rain puddles, the first solid evidence of modern rainfall on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. â€œWeâ€™re pretty confident that it has just rained on Titan,â€ lead author Elizabeth Turtle, from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, told Wired. Astronomers have previous evidence of sulfuric-acid precipitation on Venus, but it doesn’t count as rainfall because it never reaches the surface.
- What’s the Olds:
- Launched in 1997, Cassini arrived at Saturn’s orbit in 2004, where it started studying several of the planet’s moons.
- As covered in 80beats, this wasn’t the first time scientists have thought about whether it rains on Titan.
- 80beats covered the 2008 discovery of the “ingredients of life” on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
- And the spacecraft has also caught the changing seasons on Titan’s surface.
- Images reveal that these seasonal changes are so drastic that they affect the methane levels on Titan’s lakes.
- Not So Fast: Don’t read too much into these showers: Methane rain doesn’t mean life. The search continues.
Reference: â€œRapid and Extensive Surface Changes Near Titanâ€™s Equator: Evidence of April Showers.â€ E.P. Turtle, J.E. Perry, A.G. Hayes, R.D. Lorenz, J.W. Barnes, A.S. McEwen, R.A. West, A.D. Del Genio, J.M. Barbara, J.I. Lunine, E.L. Schaller, T.L. Ray, R.M.C. Lopes, E.R. Stofan. Science, Vol 331, March 18, 2011. DOI: 10.1126/science.1201063
Image: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute