Methane Rainfall detected on Titan, largest moon of Saturn

19 January, 2019, 05:40 | Author: Tara Reeves
  • New research provides evidence of rainfall on the north pole of Titan the largest of Saturn’s moons shown here. The rainfall would be the first indication of the start of a summer season in the moon’s northern hemisphere according to the researcher

A recent study published in the journal Icarus suggested that Saturn's rings are a short-lived feature and they will be completely gone in around 300 million years.

While Saturn's rings may disappear in less than 100 million years because gravity is pulling them into the planet, apparently they haven't always surrounded the planet, either.

The findings challenge the notion favoured by some astronomers that the rings developed soon after Saturn formed about 4.5 billion years ago along with the other planets, including the earth.

During the Cassini mission's final months at Saturn, the NASA spacecraft carried out a series of daring orbits through the space between the planet's cloud tops and innermost edge of its rings.

Scientists identified a reflective feature near Titan's north pole on an image taken June 7, 2016, by Cassini's near-infrared instrument, the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer.

Lead researcher Luciano Iess, a planetary scientist at Sapienza University in Rome, said orbital motion sprayed the dust and other contaminants onto the icy rings at a constant rate.

He says the relative youthfulness of Saturn's ring system is something that scientists have come to suspect only recently.

Liam Neeson's Nephew Ronan Sexton Dead at 35 | Liam Neeson, Ronan Sexton
At the time, his family, including Neeson's sister Bernadette, issued a statement thanking everyone for their support. The 35-year-old passed away in Cushendall, Northern Ireland , over the weekend, surrounded by his friends and family.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft had a long and successful mission that spanned a couple of decades.

"And with this work, Cassini fulfills a fundamental goal of its mission: not only to determine the mass of the rings, but to use the information to refine models and determine the age of the rings". And they most likely formed in the last 100 million years.

The same measurements captured by Cassini also revealed something else about Saturn - the layers of its atmosphere rotate around the planet at different speeds, until you get at least 9,000 kilometres (5,590 miles) in. "But on Saturn they are really massive". As Cassini was running out of fuel and dipping towards its demise in the atmosphere of Saturn, it dipped between Saturn and its rings 22 times. In the image above, Saturn's moon Enceladus can be seen drifting before the rings and the tiny moon Pandora.

"The discovery of deeply rotating layers is a surprising revelation about the internal structure of the planet", said Cassini project scientist Dr. Linda Spilker, a researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The new age estimate for Saturn's rings is based on previous models created to simulate the evolution of Saturn's rings.

"The relationship between the mass and age of the rings is subtle", Iess told Newsweek. "The question is, What causes the more rapidly rotating part of the atmosphere to go so deep, and what does that tell us about Saturn's interior?"

Scientists were also able to estimate the mass of Saturn's rocky core. The lower the mass, the younger the rings are, and because they are predominantly made of ice, if they were older, the ring material would have become contaminated by interplanetary debris, dulling them.

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