Researchers have now developed a computer model of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan’s atmosphere that explains the presence of large bodies of liquid on its surface in a much simpler and articulate manner.
Titan is an intriguing, alien world that is covered in a thick atmosphere with abundant methane. With an average surface temperature of a brisk -297 degrees Fahrenheit (about 90 kelvins) and a diameter just less than half of Earth’s, Titan boasts methane clouds and fog, as well as rainstorms and plentiful lakes of liquid methane.
Now, researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have developed a new computer model that explains three baffling observations of Titan.
One oddity was discovered in 2009, when researchers led by Caltech professor of planetary science Oded Aharonson found that Titan’s methane lakes tend to cluster around its poles-and noted that there are more lakes in the northern hemisphere than in the south.
Secondly, the areas at low latitudes, near Titan’s equator, are known to be dry, lacking lakes and regular precipitation. But when the Huygens probe landed on Titan in 2005, it saw channels carved out by flowing liquid-possibly runoff from rain.
And in 2009, Caltech researchers discovered raging storms that may have brought rain to this supposedly dry region.
Finally, scientists uncovered a third mystery when they noticed that clouds observed over the past decade, during summer in Titan’s southern hemisphere, cluster around southern middle and high latitudes.
“We have a unified explanation for many of the observed features,” said Tapio Schneider, the Frank J. Gilloon Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering.
“It doesn’t require cryovolcanoes or anything esoteric.”
Schneider said the team’s simulations were able to reproduce the distribution of clouds that’s been observed-which was not the case with previous models.
The new model also produces the right distribution of lakes. Methane tends to collect in lakes around the poles because the sunlight there is weaker on average, he explained. Energy from the sun normally evaporates liquid methane on the surface, but since there’s generally less sunlight at the poles, it’s easier for liquid methane there to accumulate into lakes.