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Cassini Spots 'Bands of Bright Lights' of Methane Clouds Across Saturn's Moon Titan, Spacecraft Nearing Grand Finale Completion

May 11, 2017 06:45 AM EDT
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Watch 20-year Cassini mission end as Nasa probe plunges into Saturn
Cassini spacecraft in Earth swing
NASA Cassini spacecraft prepares for another dive to complete its mission. But during a non-target flyby to Saturn's moon Titan, it managed to capture bands of bright lights composed of methane clouds on the moon's surface.
(Photo : NASA/Getty Images)

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is currently completing a total of 22 dives between Saturn and its rings to finish its Grand Finale mission. Along the way, it had also gathered new vital data about the planet's moons including Titan.

While preparing for another dive, Cassini spotted "bands of bright lights" across Titan. The bright lights are actually methane clouds visible from afar. The spacecraft captured the stunning image last May 7, 2017.

According to NASA, the bands of bright lights composed of methane clouds were accidentally photographed while Cassini performed a distant, non-target flyby. The Cassini spacecraft passed by Titan, one of Saturn's most popular moons, at a distance of 303,000 miles (488,000 kilometers) above the surface.

Cassini has no more targeted flybys to Titan; however, it will continue to hover and pass by Titan and other moons. While doing it, Cassini will continue its observations and data gathering until it plunges to its death in September this year.

The images captured by Cassini not only show the band of bright lights of methane clouds but the dark regions on top of the Titan's hydrocarbon lakes and seas as well. NASA posted two versions of the image showing softer and stronger enhancement to highlight the features of the moon.

Two enhanced images of Titan
(Photo: NASA) Two enhanced images of Titan

"The view is an orthographic projection centered at 57 degrees north latitude, 48 degrees west longitude," a NASA official said in a press release. "An orthographic view is most like the view seen by a distant observer. Image scale is about 2 miles (3 kilometers) per pixel."

Capturing bands of bright lights composed of methane clouds on Titan is rare. According to Daily Mail, there were very few clouds spotted on Titan.

Scientists consider Titan special. Earlier studies suggest that Saturn's moon Titan may have the right chemistry for life.

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