Made from an unknown ice, this type of cloud has long hung over Titan's north pole, where it is now fading, according to observations made by the Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
The change of seasons on Titan is creating new cloud patterns at Titan's south pole. Here, a combination of red, green and blue images taken by the wide-angle camera on NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows a vortex over the south pole in natural color. A more recent ice cloud, detectable only at infrared wavelengths, also has formed over this pole. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/GSFC
"We associate this particular kind of ice cloud with winter weather on Titan, and this is the first time we have detected it anywhere but the north pole," said the study's lead author, Donald E. Jennings, a CIRS Co-Investigator at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
The southern ice cloud, which shows up in the far infrared part of the light spectrum, is evidence that an important pattern of global air circulation on Titan has reversed direction. When Cassini first observed the circulation pattern, warm air from the southern hemisphere was rising high in the atmosphere and got transported to the cold north pole. There, the air cooled and sank down to lower layers of the atmosphere, where it formed ice clouds. A similar pattern, called a Hadley cell, carries warm, moist air from Earth's tropics to the cooler middle latitudes.
Based on modeling, scientists had long predicted a reversal of this circulation once Titan's north pole began to warm and its south pole began to cool. The official transition from winter to spring at Titan's north pole occurred in August 2009. But because each of the moon's seasons lasts about 7-1/2 Earth years, researchers still didn't know exactly when this reversal would happen or how long it would take.
The first signs of the reversal came in data acquired in early 2012, which was shortly after the start of southern fall on Titan, when Cassini images and visual and infrared mapping spectrometer data revealed the presence of a high-altitude "haze hood" and a swirling polar vortex at the south pole. Both features have long been associated with the cold north pole. Later, Cassini scientists reported that infrared observations of Titan's winds and temperatures made by CIRS had provided definitive evidence of air sinking, rather than upwelling, at the south pole. By looking back through the data, the team narrowed down the change in circulation to within six months of the 2009 equinox.
Despite the new activity at the south pole, the southern ice cloud hadn't appeared yet. CIRS didn't detect it until about July 2012, a few months after the haze and vortex were spotted in the south, according to the study published in Astrophysical Journal Letters in December 2012.
"This lag makes sense, because first the new circulation pattern has to bring loads and loads of gases to the south pole. Then the air has to sink. The ices have to condense. And the pole has to be under enough shadow to protect the vapors that condense to form those ices," said Carrie Anderson, a CIRS team member and Cassini participating scientist at NASA Goddard.
At first blush, the southern ice cloud seems to be building rapidly. The northern ice cloud, on the other hand, was present when Cassini first arrived and has been slowly fading the entire time the spacecraft has been observing it.
So far, the identity of the ice in these clouds has eluded scientists, though they have ruled out simple chemicals, such as methane, ethane and hydrogen cyanide, that are typically associated with Titan. One possibility is that species X, as some team members call the ice, could be a mixture of organic compounds.
"What's happening at Titan's poles has some analogy to Earth and to our ozone holes," said the CIRS Principal Investigator, NASA Goddard's F. Michael Flasar. "And on Earth, the ices in the high polar clouds aren't just window dressing: They play a role in releasing the chlorine that destroys ozone. How this affects Titan chemistry is still unknown. So it's important to learn as much as we can about this phenomenon, wherever we find it."
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. The mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The CIRS team is based at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., where the instrument was built.Elizabeth Zubritsky 301-614-5438
Elizabeth Zubritsky | EurekAlert!
From rocks in Colorado, evidence of a 'chaotic solar system'
23.02.2017 | University of Wisconsin-Madison
Prediction: More gas-giants will be found orbiting Sun-like stars
22.02.2017 | Carnegie Institution for Science
In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport
Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...
The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.
The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...
Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...
Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".
Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...
13.02.2017 | Event News
10.02.2017 | Event News
09.02.2017 | Event News
24.02.2017 | Life Sciences
24.02.2017 | Life Sciences
24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News