The Cassini spacecraft of NASA has recently spotted a massive polar vortex brewing on Saturn’s largest moon Titan. According to scientists, the giant ice cloud is located on the low-to-mid stratosphere of the satellite.
Cassini has already photographed a prominent cloud floating over the moon’s South Pole at a height of around 300 km or 186 miles, but there were more fascinating facts to be revealed. The newly spotted ice cloud system is much bigger and lies beneath the previously discovered cloud. The new cloud system is located at an altitude of around 200 km or 124 miles.
Carrie Anderson, the leader of the team, looking after this project, said that the newly identified cloud covers almost 5 degrees of latitude (from around 75 to 80 degrees south). For those who don’t know: 5 degrees of latitudes is equivalent to 240 km or 150 miles.
To detect the new cloud, astronomers had to use the CIRS or Composite Infrared Spectrometer, Cassini space probe’s infrared instrument. The cloud, according to scientists, boasts a low density, much like Earth’s fog. However, there’s difference between the two formations; unlike fog in our atmosphere, the new cloud spotted in Titan appears to be flat on top.
There’s also a significant difference between the newly spotted ice cloud on Titan and the rain clouds on Earth. The two cloud types are formed in completely different ways.
The last few years have seen Cassini monitoring the transition from fall to winter at South Pole of Titan. This has made this NASA spacecraft the first probe ever to witness the onset of winter on the moon
As every season on Titan lasts for around seven and half years (when calculated based on Earth’s calendar), the satellite’s south pole will still have winter when the NASA probe’s mission will be ending in 2017.
Carrie Anderson, an expert at the space agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center, informed that when scientists looked at infrared data offered by Cassini, the newly spotted ice cloud appeared to be something that they have never witnessed before. According to Anderson, this finding has left everyone at NASA bamboozled and surprised.
Anderson presented these findings at this year’s Meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences, a convention organized by the American Astronomical Society. The event was held at National Harbor, Maryland.