'Summer is happening’: Scientists reveal key new insights into Saturn’s moon Titan
When orbiting Titan, the Cassini spacecraft captured something reflective on the moon’s north pole that covered about 46,332 square miles – a “bright ephemeral” reflective feature that didn’t appear on previous or subsequent images taken as Cassini repeatedly passed.
While the image was captured by Cassini’s near-infrared instrument, VIMS, back in 2016, it has only been published in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters this week.
“Based on the overall brightness, spectral characteristics, and geologic context, we attribute this new feature to specular reflections from a rain-wetted solid surface like those off of a sunlit wet sidewalk,” the scientists who made the discovery explain.
The glistening rainfall disappeared quickly, suggesting it could actually be methane rain. The paper explains that the discovery makes Titan “the only place, other than Earth, where rain interacts with the surface.”
It is the first documented rainfall event at Titan’s north pole, and also suggests summer has arrived at the northern hemisphere. Cassini had observed clouds and rain in the southern hemisphere of Saturn’s largest satellite when it first arrived at Titan in 2004.Also on rt.com How Cassini's haunting Grand Finale unlocked Saturn’s secrets (VIDEOS)
A single season on Titan lasts an incredible seven Earth years, and climate models had predicted that similar weather would take place in the northern hemisphere in the years leading up to the summer solstice in 2017, but there had been no sign of cloud cover.
This rainfall “follows the theoretical climate models we know of,” author Rajani Dhingra of the Department of Physics, University of Idaho explained. “Summer is happening. It was delayed, but it’s happening”
Saturn’s moon is the second largest in the entire solar system and is home to surface liquid and dust storms, which leaves some scientists to theorize that it could be home to alien life.
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