Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Storm clouds over Titan

17.08.2009
Ground-based telescope captures first visual images of storm clouds over the tropics of Saturn's largest moon

Taking advantage of advanced techniques to correct distortions caused by Earth's atmosphere, astronomers used the NSF-supported Gemini Observatory to capture the first images of clouds over the tropics of Titan, Saturn's largest moon.

The images clarify a long-standing mystery linking Titan's weather and surface features, helping astronomers better understand the moon of Saturn, viewed by some scientists as an analog to Earth when our planet was young.

The effort also served as the latest demonstration of adaptive optics, which use deformable mirrors to enable NSF's suite of ground-based telescopes to capture images that in some cases exceed the resolution of images captured by space-based counterparts.

Emily Schaller from the University of Hawai'i, Henry Roe from Lowell Observatory, and Tapio Schneider and Mike Brown, both of Caltech, reported their findings in the Aug. 13, 2009, issue of Nature.

"Adaptive optics are helping our ground-based telescopes accomplish feats that have until now been capable only with telescopes in space," said Brian

Patten, a program director in NSF's Astronomy Division. "Now, we can remove the affects of the atmosphere, capturing images that in some cases exceed the resolution of those captured by space-based telescopes. Investments in adaptive optics technology are really starting to pay off."

On Titan, clouds of light hydrocarbons, not water, occasionally emerge in the frigid, dense atmosphere, mainly clustering near the poles, where they feed scattered methane lakes below.

Closer to the moon's equator, clouds are rare, and the surface is more similar to an arid, wind-swept terrain on Earth. Observations by space probes suggest evidence for liquid-carved terrain in the tropics, but the cause has been a mystery.

Regular monitoring of Titan's infrared spectrum suggests clouds increased dramatically in 1995 and 2004, inspiring astronomers to watch closely for the next brightening, an indicator of storms that could be imaged from Earth.

Schaller and her colleagues used NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF), situated on Hawaii's Mauna Kea, to monitor Titan on 138 nights over a period of two years, and on April 13, 2008, the team saw a tell-tale brightening.

The researchers then turned to the NSF-supported Gemini North telescope, an 8-meter telescope also located on Mauna Kea, to capture the extremely high-resolution infrared snapshots of Titan's cloud cover, including the first storms ever observed in the moon's tropics.

The team suggests that the storms may yield precipitation capable of feeding the apparently liquid-carved channels on the planet's surface, and also influenced weather patterns throughout the moon's atmosphere for several weeks.

Read more in the Gemini press release at http://www.gemini.edu/pio/pr2009-5.php, the Lowell Observatory press release at http://www.lowell.edu/media/releases.php, and the University of Hawaii press release at http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/press-releases/SchallerTitanAug09/.

View a video of astronomers Henry Roe and Mike Brown discussing recently announced observations of storm clouds in the tropics of Titan here: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_videos.jsp?cntn_id=115388&media_id=65496&org=NSF

For additional images and researcher contacts, see http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=115388.

Joshua Chamot | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Observing and controlling ultrafast processes with attosecond resolution
20.02.2018 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Unconventional superconductor may be used to create quantum computers of the future
19.02.2018 | Chalmers University of Technology

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: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

Im Focus: Interference as a new method for cooling quantum devices

Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters

Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

New tech for commercial Lithium-ion batteries finds they can be charged 5 times fast

20.02.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Hidden talents: Converting heat into electricity with pencil and paper

20.02.2018 | Materials Sciences

Rare find from the deep sea

20.02.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>