NASA’s Cassini spacecraft orbits Saturn in our Solar System, keeping track of not only what happens on Saturn, but also on the moons orbiting the planet. One of the most interesting and the largest of all Saturn’s moons, is Titan.
Cassini spied methane clouds moving across Titan’s Northern atmosphere on October 29th and 30th with its onboard narrow angle camera in infrared light to make the clouds more visible. NASA notes that moving sequences like these help astronomers distinguish between camera noise and the real thing.
In the movie sequence that was recorded, which lasts 11 Earth hours, the methane clouds appear to develop and slowly fade away while most are moving anywhere from 14-22 miles per hour.
The time lapse video was recorded as a part of an initiative to focus Cassini’s efforts on learning about cloud development on Titan. Cassini is expected to continue observing Titan’s cloud development until the Summer solstice of 2017.
Because cloud dynamics on Titan are very much different from those on Earth, we wanted to learn as much as we possibly could. Some of the clouds that exist on Titan theoretically shouldn’t even exist with what we know about the moon, so observing how they develop and fade away is a great place to start.
NASA doesn’t have a lot of time left to observe the Saturnian system; in September of 2017, the spacecraft will go on a suicide mission and plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere.