Home » SCIENCE » Saturn Moon Titan Beset with Icy South Pole, Finds NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft
titan south pole
As winter sets in at Titan’s south pole, a cloud system called the south polar vortex (small, bright “button”) has been forming, as seen in this 2013 image. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn Moon Titan Beset with Icy South Pole, Finds NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft found that winter comes in like a lion on the moon of Saturn Titan’s south pole with a monstrous new cloud of frozen compounds in its low-to-mid stratosphere atmospheric region.

An early snapshot of the changes taking place at Titan's south pole

An early snapshot of the changes taking place at Titan’s south pole in 2012. (NASA)

Cassini’s camera had earlier sent an image of a cloud over Titan’s south pole at an altitude of about 186 miles (300 km) but that 2012 image is just a tip of the iceberg now, says NASA. The newly-found massive cloud system has in the stratosphere is peaking at an altitude of about 124 miles (200 km).

Detected by Cassini’s infrared instrument – the Composite Infrared Spectrometer, or CIRS – which obtains profiles of the atmosphere at invisible thermal wavelengths, it was cloud was found to be of a low density, similar to Earth’s fog but likely flat on top.

For the past few years, Cassini has been taking images of Titan’s south pole in winter season that last for about 7-1/2 years on Earth’s calendar, making the south pole virtually enveloped in winter when the Cassini mission ends in 2017.

“When we looked at the infrared data, this ice cloud stood out like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” said Carrie Anderson of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He presented the new finding at the annual Meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society at National Harbor, Maryland.

Cassini reached Saturn in 2004 when it was mid-winter at Titan’s north pole. As the north pole has been transitioning into springtime, the ice clouds there have been disappearing but new clouds have been forming at the south pole. It will continue studying the south pole monstrous clouds until 2017 when its mission ends.

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