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Springtime on Titan

March 18, 2011

Composite view of Titan taken by Cassini

The Cassini Saturn probe just keeps tickin’ along, coming up with new stuff all the time. It’s “springtime” on Saturn, in that Saturn experienced equinox in August 2009, and with a year of almost 30 Earth years, it’s still spring. Now Cassini has seen evidence of methane rain falling in the more arid regions around the equator. Methane takes the place of water in the weather cycle on Titan, where it is too cold for liquid water – as in about 290 degrees below zero F.

Most of the atmosphere of Titan is nitrogen, but it also seems to contain several per cent methane (more than the amount of water in Earth’s atmosphere), and it’s very thick; at ground level the air pressure is about half again that of Earth’s. The atmosphere contains a bunch of other stuff as well that apparently is similar to smog on Earth. The atmospheric chemistry of Titan must be pretty interesting, with so many complex chemical reactions going on with so little heat to drive them.

Titan weather photo

I’m amazed by the fact that through all this crud in the air on Titan Cassini can still see weather patterns – as little as five or six years ago we didn’t even know what kind of surface the moon had because of the murk. Researching this post I found that it’s now known that Titan is not the largest moon in the solar system, as long thought. The honor goes to Ganymede, which is 62 miles in diameter larger.

Cassini was launched in 1997. Technology fifteen years old is providing this information, folks! On those days when you think maybe our lasting impact on civilization will be the cellular phone, or worse, the video game, remember that people are building machines that travel hundreds of millions of miles, through intense cold, sailing through the black for years, and still function perfectly. That makes me feel pretty good about human beings…at least for today!

Not that cats couldn’t have done it better, of course…

From cheezeburger.com, of course!

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