More Saturn at Opposition

StarDate: May 13, 2014

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The weather can change quickly at this time of year — sunny and calm one day, stormy and windy the next. One of the moons of Saturn may soon see changes in the weather, too — and for the same reason as here on Earth: a switch in seasons.

Titan is Saturn’s largest moon. It’s enveloped by a cold, dense atmosphere that supports clouds and even rain — not of water, but of liquid methane and ethane. The rains fill lakes in Titan’s polar regions.

Titan’s northern hemisphere is nearing the middle of spring — a season that lasts more than seven years. A recent study says that as the polar regions get warmer, winds could start to blow across the frigid landscape. The winds could reach speeds of perhaps two miles per hour — hardly noticeable here on Earth, but enough to generate waves on Titan’s lakes. The waves would be only a few inches high, but that would be tall enough to be detected by the Cassini spacecraft, which is orbiting Saturn.

Another study says that as spring turns to summer in a few years, big storms could form atop the lakes — the equivalent of hurricanes here on Earth — all driven by the changing seasons.

Saturn is putting its best showing of the year right now. It’s in view all night, and it’s at its most brilliant, shining like a bright golden star. It’s close to the lower left of the Moon this evening, and will be a similar distance from the Moon tomorrow night. More about that tomorrow.

 

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

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