Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Cassini images discover a windy, wavy Titan atmosphere

10.03.2005


The dynamic atmosphere of Saturn’s haze-enshrouded moon Titan is revealed in the first Cassini Imaging Team report on Titan, to appear in the March 10 issue of Nature.



Imaging scientists, analyzing images of Titan designed to allow views of the surface and lower atmosphere, have discovered that the winds on Titan blow a lot faster than the moon rotates. In contrast, the jet stream of Earth blows a lot slower than the surface of our planet moves.

Titan is a particularly slow rotator, taking 16 Earth days to make one full rotation. Yet, despite its slow period, model simulations made a decade ago predicted that winds in its atmosphere should blow faster than its surface rotates, making it, like its slowly rotating cousin Venus, one of the solar system’s ‘super-rotators’.


“It has long been known that winds in Venus’s atmosphere blow many times faster than the solid planet itself rotates,” said imaging team member Dr. Tony DelGenio of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, or GISS, in New York, who made the first computer simulation predicting Titan super-rotation a decade ago. “Models of Titan’s atmosphere have indicated that it too should super-rotate just like Venus, but until now there have been no direct wind measurements to test the prediction,” he said.

Titan’s winds are measured by watching its clouds move. Clouds are a rare occurrence on Titan, and those whose motions can be tracked are often small (about 100 kilometers or 60 miles across) and faint; in other words, the clouds are too inconspicuous to be seen from Earth. The discovery of moving clouds required careful manipulation of Cassini images in which cloud features are hard to distinguish through the moon’s ubiquitous haze and against the backdrop of Titan’s complex bright and dark surface. DelGenio and his associate John Barbara, also of GISS, used Cassini images that had been taken through special filters designed to see through the haze to detect surface features as well as clouds. "To discriminate clouds from surface features, I took images of the same region at different times and subtracted them from each other,” said Barbara. “When I did this, time-variable clouds stood out as regions of changing brightness.”

Ten such clouds have been tracked, giving wind speeds as high as 34 meters per second (about 75 miles per hour) to the east – hurricane strength – at an altitude somewhere in Titan’s middle and lower troposphere. "This result is consistent with the predictions of Titan weather models, and it suggests that we now understand the basic features of how meteorology works on slowly rotating planets," said Del Genio.

Cassini images also reveal much larger cloud streaks – 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) long – elongated generally east-west. These clouds occur at preferred locations and move at only a few meters per second. Apparently these streak clouds originate closer to Titan’s surface, perhaps from places where methane is released to the atmosphere from below Titan’s surface, or places where wind blows over topography.

In Titan’s hazy stratosphere, it looks as though modelers may have to go back to the drawing board. Voyager images of Titan detected a faint detached haze layer above Titan’s main stratospheric haze, at altitudes of 300-350 kilometers (190 to 220 miles). Cassini ultraviolet images, which are sensitive to scattering of sunlight by small particles, detect a similar detached haze layer, but at an altitude of 500 kilometers (310 miles) instead.

“The change we see in the detached haze over the 25 years since Voyager suggests that either the photochemical process that produce the hydrocarbon haze particles, or the atmospheric circulation that distributes them around the planet, may change with the seasons,” said imaging team member Dr. Bob West of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who designed all the Titan atmosphere imaging sequences for the Cassini mission. “It will be a challenge for models to be able to predict how and where these detached hazes occur,” he said.

Images of Titan’s night side, in which high haze layers are backlit by the Sun, surprised scientists by showing evidence of an entire series of haze layers. These may be evidence of gravity waves, the atmospheric equivalent of ripples on a pond, propagating up to Titan’s upper stratosphere by disturbances that originate at lower levels. If so, then analysis of the properties of these waves may yield insights into the temperature and wind profiles of Titan’s stratosphere and how they change over the course of the mission.

Images associated with this release, and information about the Cassini-Huygens mission, are available at ciclops.org, saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and www.nasa.gov/cassini.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

Preston Dyches | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://ciclops.org

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy
24.03.2017 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst

nachricht Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core
24.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Northern oceans pumped CO2 into the atmosphere

27.03.2017 | Earth Sciences

Fingerprint' technique spots frog populations at risk from pollution

27.03.2017 | Life Sciences

Big data approach to predict protein structure

27.03.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>