The Fog Creeps in on Methane Feet

On Titan, That Is

Artists concept of Titan surface beneath its foggy atmosphere. Courtesy NASA. Click to embiggenate.
Artist's concept of Titan surface beneath its foggy atmosphere. Courtesy NASA. Click to embiggenate.

Astronomer Mike Brown of CalTech (who tweets under the name PlutoKiller) has a fascinating discussion on his blog about fog banks hovering over Titan’s south pole. Titan, if you haven’t been following outer solar system news, is the largest moon of Saturn. It has this thick atmosphere hanging over a frigid surface which itself boasts pools of hydrocarbons in the form of liquid and ice. The hydrocarbons are in the form of ethane (on the surface) and now it appears that the methane forms fog banks in the atmosphere. Methane breaks down in the presence of sunlight to make ethane, so this whole thing seems to point to some sort of cycle between atmosphere and surface on Titan.

I say “seems” because, as Mike discusses, there’s a lot of atmospheric science work to be done to completely understand what’s happening on this shrouded world to make methane clouds form.  Want to know more and see a cool pic? Run over to Mike’s blog and read what he has to say. He also has a link to his science paper outlining the fogbank on Titan and a nice, insightful discussion on peer review of his paper — and he invites folks knowledgeable in the Titan atmosphere to review his paper before it goes to publication.  How cool is that!

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