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Cassini Detects Swarms of Methane Clouds in Titan's Summer Skies

Jun 19, 2017 08:47 AM EDT
NASA at Saturn: Cassini's Grand Finale
The NASA Cassini probe observes swarms of bright methane clouds on the surface of Titan. Titan is one of Saturn's moons.
(Photo : NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/YouTube Screenshot)

Cassini's dives between Saturn and its rings continue providing scientists with information that were not available before. The dives gave them a close look at Saturn's moon Titan, a moon considered to have the right chemistry for life.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft observed swarms of bright methane clouds on Titan's summer skies. The bright methane clouds were disrupted by signs of the moon's dark hydrocarbon lakes and seas near its northern pole. A summer solstice recently occurred in Saturn last May 24, 2017.

"Compared to earlier in Cassini's mission, most of the surface in the moon's northern high latitudes is now illuminated by the sun," a NASA official said in a press release.

To capture the image, Cassini used its narrow-angle camera last June 9, 2017. A special spectral filter was used that allowed wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 938 nanometers to pass through. The spacecraft was about 315,000 miles (507, 000 kilometers) from Titan when the image showing swarms of bright methane clouds on the surface of the moon was taken.

The dives between Saturn and its rings are part of NASA Cassini's Grand Finale mission before it initiates its "Death Dive" towards the planet. According to NASA, Cassini will have to make a total of 22 weekly dives from April 26 to Sept. 15, 2017, to complete its mission. During this time, the spacecraft will proceed to dive in "danger zones", and in areas where no spacecraft has gone before.

With the help of Cassini's mission, scientists will be able to provide concrete science about the ringed-planet including a detailed map of Saturn's gravity and magnetic fields. This will reveal how the planet is arranged internally. Until today, astronomers and scientists are still trying to figure out how fast Saturn rotates.

The dives will also explore the planet's icy rings. The mystical rings that envelop Saturn have always been interesting for scientists. They wanted to know how much material is in the rings. By diving closer, Cassini will provide valuable information that scientists will analyze for the years to come.

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