You don’t see rain falling on an alien world every day. A few years ago, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft flew around Saturn’s moon Titan and gathered amazing information on the huge moon’s surface. It saw lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons, but in 2016 it spotted a bright patch.
A team of scientists looked at the data from the Cassini mission and saw a reflective spot close to Titan’s north pole. The spot was 43,330 square miles, and it disappeared fast, explained the lead author Rajani Dhingra (physics doctoral student, the University of Idaho in Moscow):
“It’s like looking at a sunlit wet sidewalk”
It was the middle of 2016, which could have meant that it was summer on Titan in the northern hemisphere, added Dhingra:
Summer is happening. It was delayed, but it’s happening. We will have to figure out what caused the delay, though.
Because Saturn and its moons need 29.5 Earth years to complete an orbit around the Sun, seasons on Saturn and its moons would last almost 7.5 years each. In mid-2004 Cassini arrived close to Saturn. Back then it was summer in the southern hemisphere – it saw rainfall and clouds on Titan in the south. The rains, seas, and rivers on Titan are made of liquid hydrocarbons.
Cassini intentionally crashed into Saturn’s atmosphere in September 2017 when it ran low on fuel. The mission team members made the spacecraft dive to its death so that it won’t get to Titan or Enceladus and contaminate it with microbes from Earth. According to scientists, the two planets could support life.
The images that caught the rain fall in 2016 on Titan were taken with Cassini’s Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer instrument which could see through the thick atmosphere.
Back in 2005, Cassini sent a European lander (known as Huygens) to Titan, making it the first soft landing on a moon on another planetary system.
Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere