Dust storms on Titan spotted for the first time

Posted: September 25, 2018 by oldbrew in climate, research, solar system dynamics, wind
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Saharan dust storm [image credit: BBC]


The researchers report that ‘Titan displays particularly energetic meteorology at equinox in equatorial regions’. Associated strong winds ‘are expected to occur in downbursts during rare equinoctial methane storms—consistent with the timing of the observed brightenings’. On Earth, auroral activity is strongest at the equinoxes, so solar wind strength could be a factor in both phenomena.

Data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has revealed what appear to be giant dust storms in equatorial regions of Saturn’s moon Titan, reports Phys.org.

The discovery, described in a paper published on Sept. 24 in Nature Geoscience, makes Titan the third Solar System body, in addition to Earth and Mars, where dust storms have been observed.

The observation is helping scientists to better understand the fascinating and dynamic environment of Saturn’s largest moon.

“Titan is a very active moon,” said Sebastien Rodriguez, an astronomer at the Université Paris Diderot, France, and the paper’s lead author. “We already know that about its geology and exotic hydrocarbon cycle. Now we can add another analogy with Earth and Mars: the active dust cycle, in which organic dust can be raised from large dune fields around Titan’s equator.”

Titan is an intriguing world—in ways quite similar to Earth. In fact, it is the only moon in the Solar System with a substantial atmosphere and the only celestial body other than our planet where stable bodies of surface liquid are known to still exist.

There is one big difference, though: On Earth such rivers, lakes and seas are filled with water, while on Titan it is primarily methane and ethane that flows through these liquid reservoirs. In this unique cycle, the hydrocarbon molecules evaporate, condense into clouds and rain back onto the ground.

The weather on Titan varies from season to season as well, just as it does on Earth. In particular, around the equinox—the time when the Sun crosses Titan’s equator—massive clouds can form in tropical regions and cause powerful methane storms. Cassini observed such storms during several of its Titan flybys.

Continued here.

Nature – article: Observational evidence for active dust storms on Titan at equinox

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