Numerous lakes of hydrocarbons and seas are visible: at the top is the prominent body of liquid known as Ligeia Mare; the main centers are in the northernmost part of Kraken Mare and on the island of Mayda Insula; and in the bottom center is a portion of Punga Mare. In the lower right corner, Jingpo Lacus reveals a series of sinuous canals in its lake bed, while Bolsena Lacus appears in the lower left corner.
Christiaan Huygens (14 April 1629 – 8 July 1695) was a Dutch physicist, mathematician, astronomer and inventor, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest scientists of all time and a major figure in the scientific revolution. In physics, Huygens made groundbreaking contributions in optics and mechanics, while as an astronomer he is chiefly known for his studies of the rings of Saturn and the discovery of its moon Titan. As an inventor, he improved the design of the telescope with the invention of the Huygenian eyepiece. His most famous invention, however, was the invention of the pendulum clock in 1656, which was a breakthrough in timekeeping and became the most accurate timekeeper for almost 300 years. Because he was the first to use mathematical formulae to describe the laws of physics, Huygens has been called the first theoretical physicist and the founder of mathematical physics.
In 1659, Huygens was the first to derive the now standard formula for the centripetal force in his work De vi centrifuga. The formula played a central role in classical mechanics and became known as the second of Newton’s laws of motion. Huygens was also the first to formulate the correct laws of elastic collision in his work De motu corporum ex percussione, but his findings were not published until after his death in 1703. In the field of optics, he is best known for his wave theory of light, which he proposed in 1678 and described in 1690 in his Treatise on Light, which is regarded as the first mathematical theory of light. His theory was initially rejected in favor of Isaac Newton’s corpuscular theory of light, until Augustin-Jean Fresnel adopted Huygens’ principle in 1818 and showed that it could explain the rectilinear propagation and diffraction effects of light. Today this principle is known as the Huygens–Fresnel principle. read more
Data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has revealed what appear to be giant dust storms in equatorial regions of Saturn’s moon Titan. The discovery, described in a paper published on Sept. 24 in Nature Geoscience, makes Titan the third Solar System body, in addition to Earth and Mars, where dust storms have been observed.
The observation is helping scientists to better understand the fascinating and dynamic environment of Saturn’s largest moon.
“Titan is a very active moon,” said Sebastien Rodriguez, an astronomer at the Université Paris Diderot, France, and the paper’s lead author. “We already know that about its geology and exotic hydrocarbon cycle. Now we can add another analogy with Earth and Mars: the active dust cycle, in which organic dust can be raised from large dune fields around Titan’s equator.”
Titan is an intriguing world – in ways quite similar to Earth. In fact, it is the only moon in the Solar System with a substantial atmosphere and the only celestial body other than our planet where stable bodies of surface liquid are known to still exist.
There is one big difference, though: On Earth such rivers, lakes and seas are filled with water, while on Titan it is primarily methane and ethane that flows through these liquid reservoirs. In this unique cycle, the hydrocarbon molecules evaporate, condense into clouds and rain back onto the ground.
The weather on Titan varies from season to season as well, just as it does on Earth. In particular, around the equinox – the time when the Sun crosses Titan’s equator – massive clouds can form in tropical regions and cause powerful methane storms. Cassini observed such storms during several of its Titan flybys.
When Rodriguez and his team first spotted three unusual equatorial brightenings in infrared images taken by Cassini around the moon’s 2009 northern equinox, they thought they might be the same kind of methane clouds; however, an investigation revealed they were something completely different.
“From what we know about cloud formation on Titan, we can say that such methane clouds in this area and in this time of the year are not physically possible,” said Rodriguez. “The convective methane clouds that can develop in this area and during this period of time would contain huge droplets and must be at a very high altitude – much higher than the 6 miles (10 kilometers) that modeling tells us the new features are located.”
The researchers were also able to rule out that the features were actually on the surface of Titan in the form of frozen methane rain or icy lavas. Such surface spots would have a different chemical signature and would remain visible for much longer than the bright features in this study, which were visible for only 11 hours to five weeks.
In addition, modeling showed that the features must be atmospheric but still close to the surface – most likely forming a very thin layer of tiny solid organic particles. Since they were located right over the dune fields around Titan’s equator, the only remaining explanation was that the spots were actually clouds of dust raised from the dunes.
Organic dust is formed when organic molecules, formed from the interaction of sunlight with methane, grow large enough to fall to the surface. Rodriguez said that while this is the first-ever observation of a dust storm on Titan, the finding is not surprising.
“We believe that the Huygens Probe, which landed on the surface of Titan in January 2005, raised a small amount of organic dust upon arrival due to its powerful aerodynamic wake,” said Rodriguez. “But what we spotted here with Cassini is at a much larger scale. The near-surface wind speeds required to raise such an amount of dust as we see in these dust storms would have to be very strong – about five times as strong as the average wind speeds estimated by the Huygens measurements near the surface and with climate models.”
The existence of such strong winds generating massive dust storms implies that the underlying sand can be set in motion, too, and that the giant dunes covering Titan’s equatorial regions are still active and continually changing.
The winds could be transporting the dust raised from the dunes across large distances, contributing to the global cycle of organic dust on Titan and causing similar effects to those that can be observed on Earth and Mars. source
These six infrared images of Saturn’s moon Titan represent some of the clearest, most seamless-looking global views of the icy moon’s surface produced so far. The views were created using 13 years of data acquired by the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) instrument on board NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Nantes/University of Arizona
The diversity of worlds in our solar system (climate and geology)…
The Great Red Spot is a persistent high-pressure region in the atmosphere of Jupiter, producing an anticyclonic storm 22° south of the planet’s equator. It has been continuously observed for 188 years, since 1830. Earlier observations from 1665 to 1713 are believed to be of the same storm; if this is correct, it has existed for at least 350 years. Such storms are not uncommon within the turbulent atmospheres of gas giants.
With over 400 active volcanoes, Io is the most geologically active object in the Solar System. This extreme geologic activity is the result of tidal heating from friction generated within Io’s interior as it is pulled between Jupiter and the other Galilean satellites—Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
Europa has the smoothest surface of any known solid object in the Solar System. The apparent youth and smoothness of the surface have led to the hypothesis that a water ocean exists beneath it, which could conceivably harbor extraterrestrial life.
Neptune, the eighth and farthest planet from the sun, has the strongest winds in the solar system. At high altitudes speeds can exceed 1,100 mph. That is 1.5 times faster than the speed of sound. In 1989, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft made the first and only close-up observations of Neptune.
Ganymede is the largest and most massive moon of Jupiter and in the Solar System.
Possessing a metallic core, it has the lowest moment of inertia factor of any solid body in the Solar System and is the only moon known to have a magnetic field. (Sounds of Ganymede’s magnetosphere).
Saturn’s hexagon is a persisting hexagonal cloud pattern around the north pole of Saturn, located at about 78°N. The sides of the hexagon are about 13,800 km (8,600 mi) long, which is more than the diameter of Earth (about 12,700 km (7,900 mi)).
Miranda’s surface has patchwork regions of broken terrain indicating intense geological activity in Miranda’s past, and is criss-crossed by huge canyons. It also has the largest known cliff in the Solar System, Verona Rupes, which has a height of over 5 km (3.1 mi).
Some of Miranda’s terrain is possibly less than 100 million years old based on crater counts, which suggests that Miranda may still be geologically active today.
Enceladus is the sixth-largest moon of Saturn. It is about 500 kilometers (310 mi) in diameter, about a tenth of that of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
Evidence of liquid water on Enceladus began to accumulate in 2005, when scientists observed plumes containing water vapor spewing from its south polar surface, with jets moving 250 kg of water vapor every second at up to 2,189 km/h (1,360 mph) into space.
Triton is one of the few moons in the Solar System known to be geologically active (the others being Jupiter’s Io and Europa, and Saturn’s Enceladus and Titan). As a consequence, its surface is relatively young with few obvious impact craters, and a complex geological history revealed in intricate cryovolcanic and tectonic terrains.Part of its surface has geysers erupting sublimated nitrogen gas, contributing to a tenuous nitrogen atmosphere less than 1/70,000 the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere at sea level.