Massive Vortex Discovered on Saturn’s Moon Titan
By on July 11th, 2012

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is capturing stunning images of a high altitude vortex on the south pole of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

Titan Storm

True color image captured by NASA’S Cassini spacecraft before a distant flyby of Saturn’s moon Titan on June 27, 2012 Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

When Cassini first arrived in the Saturn system in 2004, it observed a “hood” of high altitude haze and a swirling  gaseous vortex on Saturn’s north pole. In what appears to be a changing of the seasons, the vortex has shifted toward the southern pole of Titan.  According to a NASA press release “the structure inside the vortex is reminiscent of the open cellular convection that is often seen over Earth’s oceans,” said Tony Del Genio, a Cassini team member at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, N.Y. “But unlike on Earth, where such layers are just above the surface, this one is at very high altitude, maybe a response of Titan’s stratosphere to seasonal cooling as southern winter approaches. But so soon in the game, we’re not sure.”

Cassini’s visible light cameras saw the haze forming near the southern pole back in March. Using specialized infrared instruments abbreviated VIMs, it was able to capture false color images on  May 22 and June 7.

“VIMS has seen a concentration of aerosols forming about 200 miles [300 kilometers] above the surface of Titan’s south pole,” said Christophe Sotin, a VIMS team member at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “We’ve never seen aerosols here at this level before, so we know this is something new.”

Below you can see an embedded video showing the rotation of the vortex.

 

Future observations will shed light on the composition of Titan’s atmosphere and the effects of seasonal change.  Titan is the only known satellite to have a dense atmosphere and is important for study as many feel it has all the makings to host life. For more information about Cassini’s mission to Saturn, visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/main/index.html.

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Author: Darrin Jenkins Google Profile for Darrin Jenkins
Darrin is an IT manager for a large electrical contractor in Louisville KY. He is married and has 3 kids. He loves helping people with their technology needs. He runs a blog called Say Geek!

Darrin Jenkins has written and can be contacted at darrin@techie-buzz.com.

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