Images of Saturn’s largest moon captured during the Cassini mission could now finally help to solve the mystery of Titan’s ‘missing clouds.’
Scientists have been anticipating the onset of Titan’s years-long northern summer for some time – a transition that should be marked by clouds and methane rains over the north pole.
But, these clouds never showed up.
Now, researchers have spotted a reflective feature in Titan’s northern hemisphere that’s thought to be a massive rainstorm,
‘The whole Titan community has been looking forward to seeing clouds and rains on Titan’s north pole, indicating the start of the northern summer, but despite what the climate models had predicted, we weren’t even seeing any clouds,’ said lead author Rajani Dhingra, a doctoral student in physics at the University of Idaho in Moscow.
‘People called it the curious case of missing clouds.’
In the new study published to the journal Geophysical Research Letters, researchers investigated a reflective feature spotted in a June 7, 2016 Cassini image.
The now-defunct spacecraft captured the photo using its Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer.
According to the researchers, the reflective splotch hovering over Titan is about half the size of the Great Lakes – or about 46,332 square miles.
While it might look remarkable, the tell-tale sign of rain is much like phenomena we’re used to seeing here on Earth.
‘It’s like looking at a sunlit wet sidewalk,’ Dhingra said.
And, it marks the first observation of rainfall during Titan’s northern summer.
On Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, the seasons last much longer than they do here on Earth; a single season on Titan lasts seven years in Earth time.