As the spacecraft Cassini prepared for its dive towards Saturn on May 9, it snapped a few shots of the planet’s largest moon, Titan. These beautiful images captured the wispy bands of methane clouds floating high above the moon’s surface. As it can be seen in the photos, their reflected light is brightening the entire planetary system.
“The view is an orthographic projection centered at 57 degrees north latitude, 48 degrees west longitude. An orthographic view is most like the view seen by a distant observer.”
Fascinating Photos of Titan’s Wispy Methane Clouds
On May 7th, Cassini was orienting itself for one of its scheduled dives between Saturn and its rings. After hopefully completing these 22 dives, Cassini will then make a final death spiral into the planet. The spacecraft spent the last two decades reaching and studying Saturn and its moons. Three of those dives are now complete.
Titan is the second-largest moon in the Saturn solar system at 3,200 miles in diameter. It is a fascinating example, as it has a mostly nitrogen atmosphere and a weather system based on hydrocarbons. Methane lakes and storms abound, acting very much like the water cycle on Earth.
In fact, at least for now, this is the only known celestial body with a liquid flowing openly across its surface. That is beside our own home world. Some of these lakes can even be seen in the image as dark blotches.
But the most stunning aspects of the photo are the bright, white clouds of evaporated methane floating in wide stripes across the atmosphere. These wispy methane clouds bear quite a striking resemblance to the water-based weather systems on Earth. The way in which they brighten the entire photo was a surprise even to NASA scientists.