Saturn’s moon Titan is known for its methane seas, lakes, and rivers; surprisingly Earth-like in appearance yet distinctly alien at the same time. But there is also evidence for another ocean, this one of water, below the surface. Little is known about this hidden watery world, but now new results suggest it is likely very salty – as much as the Dead Sea on Earth.
Category Archives: Cassini
The Cassini mission to Saturn has been one of the most successful and exciting in all of space exploration history. That amazing spacecraft is now celebrating its 10th anniversary today orbiting the ringed planet, after having revolutionized our understanding of the Saturnian system, which is like another entire smaller-scale solar system. But there is still much more to come!
Titan is a complex world, reminiscent of our own planet in many ways, with mountains, seas, lakes, rivers and rain. Albeit the liquid on this super-cold moon is methane/ethane instead of water, but the visual similarities are striking. Just how geologically active Titan might be in other ways however isn’t really known yet, but a new discovery might provide some clues. What looks like a new small “island“ has appeared in one of the hydrocarbon seas, where it wasn’t before. Is it really an island, or something else?
The Cassini spacecraft, still in orbit around Saturn, has taken another “wow” photograph of something other than the ringed giant planet – the much more distant ice giant planet Uranus!
Saturn has dozens of moons, ranging from the largest, Titan, which is larger than our own Moon, to small asteroid-sized objects. Now it seems that the Cassini spacecraft may have witnessed the formation of yet another moon, actually seeing the process as it is happening.
This image of Saturn from the Cassini spacecraft shows the planet with its rings edge-on, as a thin vertical line, against the massive gas giant planet itself. The shadows from the rings are on the left side of the planet, and if you look closely, the tiny watery moon Enceladus can be seen just in front of the rings as a dark dot. A very surreal view of this beautiful world.
An amazing view of the water vapour plumes erupting from the “tiger stripe” fissures at the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The plumes have been sampled and analzyed by the Cassini spacecraft and found to contain water vapour, ice particles, salts and organics. As just reported also, there is now evidence for a subsurface water ocean beneath the ice in this area as well. Additional enhancement and processing by 2di7 & titanio44 of Alive Universe Images.
Coming just after the news of the ringed asteroid and new dwarf planet, some more exciting news from the outer Solar System was announced last Thursday, and this will be of particular interest to those hoping to find evidence of alien life elsewhere in our solar system. Saturn’s tiny moon Enceladus, famous for its geysers of water vapour spewing out into space, has long been suspected of harboring an internal ocean, just like Jupiter’s moon Europa (and possibly others). Now it seems that scientists have the evidence they’ve been looking for, thanks to new findings based on data returned by the Cassini spacecraft, still in orbit around Saturn.
Auroras are one of the most beautiful natural phenomena on Earth, but they can be found on other planets in the solar system as well, notably the gas giants. New photos and video were released today, February 11, 2014, of just such displays on Saturn, which is already well known of course for its stunning rings and hexagonal bands of clouds at its north pole.
The auroras at Saturn’s north pole were seen by the orbiting Cassini spacecraft as well as the Hubble Space Telescope and viewed in infrared, visible-light and ultraviolet wavelengths.
There’s no guarantee you will always see Saturn’s light displays, as Jonathan Nichols of the University of Leicester in England explained:
“Saturn’s auroras can be fickle – you may see fireworks, you may see nothing. In 2013, we were treated to a veritable smorgasbord of dancing auroras, from steadily shining rings to super-fast bursts of light shooting across the pole.”
“This is our best look yet at the rapidly changing patterns of auroral emission,” said Wayne Pryor, a Cassini co-investigator at Central Arizona College in Coolidge, Ariz. “Some bright spots come and go from image to image. Other bright features persist and rotate around the pole, but at a rate slower than Saturn’s rotation.”
The images were initially taken last April and May in 2013, and show changing patterns of light down to a scale of a few hundred kilometres / miles, pretty good for a planet as large as Saturn.
Like on Earth, the auroras form as charged particles coming from the Sun interact with Saturn’s atmosphere. One interesting difference is in colour – while Earth’s auroras tend to be green at the bottom and red at the top, Saturn’s are red at the bottom and purple at the top. That difference is because because Earth’s auroras are dominated by nitrogen and oxygen molecules, while Saturn’s are dominated by hydrogen molecules.
While there is of course much scientific interest in these Saturnian light displays, they are also simply another wonderful planetary phenomena to be watched and enjoyed.
Other versions of the video of Saturn’s auroras can be seen here.
This article was first published on Examiner.com.