spaceSpace and Physics

Amazing Cassini Video Spots Methane Clouds Drifting Across Titan


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockNov 11 2016, 11:34 UTC

Casini snapped bright clouds of methane drifting across Titan. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The Cassini spacecraft has been looking at the clouds of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, and NASA scientists have put together a stunning time-lapse video (below) that shows several sets of clouds forming, moving around, and then fading.

The spacecraft took a picture every 20 minutes and the whole sequence was shot over 11 hours on October 29 and 30. In the video, which focuses on the North Hemisphere of Titan, there are several long and thin methane clouds moving between the 49 and 55 degrees latitude, at a speed of between 7 to 10 meters per second (14 to 22 mph).


The video also captures a region of small lakes farther north where Cassini saw a group of much slower (1 to 2 meters per second, or 0.7 to 1.1 mph) but brighter clouds between Neagh Lacus and Punga Mare. Titan has a thick atmosphere, so Cassini had to use its infrared camera to peer through the clouds.

Cassini reached the Saturnian system in 2004 and, during its long mission, it has frequently visited Titan. The extensive analysis of the moon has allowed scientists to observe and understand the pattern of seasonal changes on Titan, although this latest observation suggests that this understanding is far from complete.

Models, which are based on the southern half of Titan, predict a higher formation of clouds than has been witnessed so far, and many other studies have pointed out differences between the two hemispheres when the climate changes.


There have been several observations of Titan's clouds in 2016, but this new time-lapse will allow scientists to study the clouds in greater detail.

Cassini will continue to monitor Titan, Saturn, and the rest of the Saturnian system until September 2017, when it’s planned to conclude its mission by diving into Saturn.

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