National Aeronautics and Space Administration Logo
Follow this link to skip to the main content NASA Banner
Solar System Exploration
News & Events
Cassini Finds Titan's Clouds Hang on to Summer
Cassini Finds Titan's Clouds Hang on to Summer
3 Jun 2009
(Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Cloud chasers studying Saturn's moon Titan say its clouds form and move much like those on Earth, but in a much slower, more lingering fashion.

Their forecast for Titan's early autumn -- warm and wetter.

Three false-color images make up this mosaic view of Titan and show the clouds at 40 to 50 degrees mid-latitude.
Three false-color images make up this mosaic view of Titan and show the clouds at 40 to 50 degrees mid-latitude. Lots of clouds are visible in this infrared image of Saturn's moon Titan. These clouds form and move much like those on Earth, but in a much slower, more lingering fashion, new results from NASA's Cassini spacecraft show.
Their forecast for Titan's early autumn -- warm and wetter.
Scientists with NASA's Cassini mission have monitored Titan's atmosphere for three-and-a-half years, between July 2004 and December 2007, and observed more than 200 clouds. They found that the way these clouds are distributed around Titan matches scientists' global circulation models. The only exception is timing -- clouds are still noticeable in the southern hemisphere while fall is approaching.

"Titan's clouds don't move with the seasons exactly as we expected," said Sebastien Rodriguez of the University of Paris Diderot, in collaboration with Cassini visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team members at the University of Nantes, France. "We see lots of clouds during the summer in the southern hemisphere, and this summer weather seems to last into the early fall. It looks like Indian summer on Earth, even if the mechanisms are radically different on Titan from those on Earth. Titan may then experience a warmer and wetter early autumn than forecasted by the models."

On Earth, abnormally warm, dry weather periods in late autumn occur when low-pressure systems are blocked in the winter hemisphere. By contrast, scientists think the sluggishness of temperature changes at the surface and low atmosphere on Titan may be responsible for its unexpected warm and wet, hence cloudy, late summer.

The new infrared images showing the global cloud pattern are now available at: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://www.nasa.gov/cassini .

This infrared image of Saturn's moon Titan shows a large burst of clouds in the moon's south polar region.
This infrared image of Saturn's moon Titan shows a large burst of clouds in the moon's south polar region.
As summer changes to fall at the equinox in August 2009, Titan's clouds are expected to disappear altogether. But, circulation models of Titan's weather and climate predict that clouds at the southern latitudes don't wait for the equinox and should have already faded out since 2005. However, Cassini was still able to see clouds at these places late in 2007, and some of them are particularly active at mid-latitudes and the equator.

Titan is the only moon in our solar system with a substantial atmosphere, and its climate shares Earth-like characteristics. Titan's dense, nitrogen-methane atmosphere responds much more slowly than Earth's atmosphere, as it receives about 100 times less sunlight because it is 10 times farther from the sun. Seasons on Titan last more than seven Earth years.

Scientists will continue to observe the long-term changes during Cassini's extended mission, which runs until the fall of 2010. Cassini is set to fly by Titan on May 5.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team is based at the University of Arizona.


DC Agle 818-393-9011
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
agle@jpl.nasa.gov

IMAGE ADVISORY: 2009-093

News Archive Search  Go!
Show  results per page
 
 
Awards and Recognition   Solar System Exploration Roadmap   Contact Us   Site Map   Print This Page
NASA Official: Kristen Erickson
Advisory: Dr. James Green, Director of Planetary Science
Outreach Manager: Alice Wessen
Curator/Editor: Phil Davis
Science Writer: Autumn Burdick
Producer: Greg Baerg
Webmaster: David Martin
> NASA Science Mission Directorate
> Budgets, Strategic Plans and Accountability Reports
> Equal Employment Opportunity Data
   Posted Pursuant to the No Fear Act
> Information-Dissemination Policies and Inventories
> Freedom of Information Act
> Privacy Policy & Important Notices
> Inspector General Hotline
> Office of the Inspector General
> NASA Communications Policy
> USA.gov
> ExpectMore.gov
> NASA Advisory Council
> Open Government at NASA
Last Updated: 3 Jun 2009