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Solar Radiation Causing Rapid Seasonal Changes on Titan

Sep 30, 2012 02:41 PM EDT

Seasonal changes in Saturn's moon Titan is bringing in rapid changes to the atmospheric patterns and the chemical composition of the moon, reveals a new study.

Researcher Athena Coustenis from the Paris-Meudon Observatory in France analyzed data collected over 30 years covering an entire solar orbit. Titan is the largest of Saturn's five moons including Enceladus, Dione, Mimas and Iapetus.

Considering the distance between Titan and the Sun, it takes 29.5 years to complete one orbit around the sun.

It takes about 7.5 years for Titan to complete one season. The data collected by Coustenis from different missions like Voyager 1 (1980) and Cassini (2004 onwards) spanning 30 years gives complete details of an entire Titan year which includes all the seasons, according to a report from Euro Planet, a European Research Infrastructure for Planetary Science.

Based on the data available, Coustenis detected that there are rapid changes occurring in Titan. "As with Earth, conditions on Titan change with its seasons. We can see differences in atmospheric temperatures, chemical composition and circulation patterns, especially at the poles. For example, hydrocarbon lakes form around the North Polar Region during winter due to colder temperatures and condensation.

"Also, a haze layer surrounding Titan at the northern pole is significantly reduced during the equinox because of the atmospheric circulation patterns. This is all very surprising because we didn't expect to find any such rapid changes, especially in the deeper layers of the atmosphere," Coustenis said in a news release.

According to Coustenis, atmospheric and chemical changes are due to solar radiation. The sun is the main source of energy and is causing significant changes to the moon by releasing gases like ethane. Saturn's moon is tilted around 27 degrees just like the Earth and the sun's intense energy released varies between different regions. Titan also has lakes and rivers similar to Earth.

Coustenis pointed out that further investigation of Titan needs to be done so as to understand the impact of solar radiation on the moon. This will also shed light on our own planet Earth as they share similar conditions with respect to distribution and climate.

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