Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Vortex Discovered on Titan


Strange Vortex Discovered on Saturn Moon Titan

Photo of Titan's south polar vortex
This true color image captured by NASA'S Cassini spacecraft before a distant flyby of Saturn's moon Titan on June 27, 2012, shows a south polar vortex swirling in the moon's atmosphere.
CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

A NASA spacecraft has spied a vortex swirling in the atmosphere high above the south pole of the Saturn moon Titan, hinting that winter may be coming to the huge body's southern reaches.

NASA's Cassini probe photographed the polar vortex — or mass of swirling gas — during a flyby of Titan on June 27. The vortex appears to complete one full rotation in nine hours, while it takes Titan about 16 days to spin once around its axis.

"The structure inside the vortex is reminiscent of the open cellular convection that is often seen over Earth's oceans," Tony Del Genio, a Cassini team member at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, said in a statement.

"But unlike on Earth, where such layers are just above the surface, this one is at very high altitude, maybe a response of Titan's stratosphere to seasonal cooling as southern winter approaches," he added. "But so soon in the game, we're not sure." [Gallery: Amazing Titan Photos]

When Cassini arrived at the Saturn system in 2004, Titan — which is 3,200 miles (5,150 kilometers) wide — had a vortex and a visible "hood" of relatively dense haze high above its north pole. It was winter there until Saturn's August 2009 equinox, which marked the arrival of spring in the northern hemisphere and fall in the southern reaches of the planet and its many moons. While Titan's northern hood still remains, the circulation in the upper atmosphere has been moving from the warming north pole to the cooling south, researchers said.
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