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Cassini Shows New Photos Of Wispy Cloud Rings On Titan

First Posted: May 12, 2017 05:58 AM EDT
Cassini Captures Dramatic Clouds Streaking Across Saturn's Moon Titan
The Cassini spacecraft's farewell tour of Saturn may be focused on the strangely empty space between the planet and its rings, but it's still taking time to do some local sightseeing. Cassini snapped this image of Saturn's largest moon Titan on May 7 from a distance of 303,000 miles away.
(Photo : NASA via Wochit News/YouTube screenshot)

In a striking new image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, wispy bands of methane clouds were seen on Saturn's moon, Titan. The newly released photo was taken last Sunday, May 7, at about 316,000 miles from Titan.

According to Space.com, Cassini was zooming toward Saturn at the time as it was getting ready for its fourth plunge between the planet's cloud tops and innermost rings. The probe has completed three of the dives so far and will be performing 19 more before the mission ends on Sep. 15.

Titan is the second largest moon in the solar system, trailing just behind Jupiter's Ganymede. Its thick, nitrogen-rich atmosphere and hydrocarbon-based weather system resulted to liquid methane rains from its skies, which then freely flows across the moon's surface. It has been collecting in seas and lakes, which are visible as dark blots on the new Cassini image. At this point, Titan is the only body known to harbor bodies of liquid water on its surface other than Earth.

Like the Earth, Titan also has a change in seasons as Saturn orbits the Sun every 29 years, exposing the northern and southern hemispheres of Titan to more sunlight at some point along the way. NASA officials noted that the latest photos showed "some of the most intensely bright clouds" ever observed on Titan. Among the things captured in the image included a belt of "dunelands" near the moon's equator. Pockmarked features near the top of the photos were also recognized as seas of methane and ethane.

SpaceFlight Now noted that Titan is also believed to hide and underground ocean of salty liquid water and ammonia. However, that is yet to be proven right.

On the other hand, to protect what could possibly be a life-sustaining environment Cassini, which is running low on fuel, will have to take a destructive dive into Saturn's atmosphere. This is to keep it from possibly contaminating Titan just in case it can actually sustain life.

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