Another satellite, Tethys, is visible at the bottom left of the picture. Receive mail from us on behalf of our trusted partners or sponsors? This Behind the Scenes article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation. Please deactivate your ad blocker in order to see our subscription offer. Titan, the cloudy moon of Saturn, is one of the least hostile places (for humans) in the outer solar system. [See amazing photos of Titan]. Schaller continued with these observations for six years, the time it took her to complete her PhD studies. There was a problem. I emailed Henry Roe, and the next night he triggered observations on Gemini. However, if there is life anywhere else in the solar system, many scientists suspect it may be more likely to appear on Jupiter's icy moon Europa, which is closer to the Sun and likely to have a subsurface ocean of water. Editor's Note: This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the federal agency charged with funding basic research and education across all fields of science and engineering. Receive mail from us on behalf of our trusted partners or sponsors? "We can study the meteorological cycle on another planetary body involving a different molecule (methane)," said Emily Schaller, of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. Titan, the cloudy moon of Saturn, is one of the least hostile places (for humans) in the outer solar system. Receive news and offers from our other brands? Read more and watch a webcast about the findings in the related press release. And unveil them it did. There was a problem. And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Titan's surface temperature is about 94 K (−179.2 °C). Among our solar system’s more than 150 known moons, Titan is the only one with a substantial atmosphere. Earlier this year, even fog was discovered at Titan's South Pole. Moreover, Titan's atmospheric cycle is not a water cycle. Ground-based observatories such as the 3-meter NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) might indeed not be as detailed as Cassini for high-resolution pictures, but when it comes to daily monitoring, they are the ideal instruments. Titan scientists grew very excited by these discoveries. It has lakes of liquid methane, and even weather. Listen to the winds of Titan here. "I joke that it was Titan's little present to me," said Schaller. Titan has no water, but some scientists wonder if life based on methane might live on Titan. Receive news and offers from our other brands? Titan provides us with an Earth-like, yet alternative atmospheric circulation system to study. Live Science is part of Future US Inc, an international media group and leading digital publisher. NY 10036. I thought at first I did something wrong. They are using Earth atmospheric models, modified for Titan's smaller size and temperature. The observation of seasonal climate changes on an alien world may possibly help us better understand how things work on Earth too. New York, It has lakes of liquid methane, and even weather. Before sunlight reaches the surface, about 90% has been absorbed by the thick atmosphere, leaving only 0.1% of the amount of light Earth receives. Titan in Saturn’s system: Titan (top) emerges from behind its parent planet, Saturn. Please refresh the page and try again. It has been hard to keep up with the flow of discoveries delivered from Titan to Earth since then. Titan’s atmosphere is much colder, however, having a temperature at the surface of … Introduction Saturn’s largest moon Titan is an extraordinary and exceptional world. On Earth, those are gases, but the extremely cold temperature of Titan, around -290°F (-180°C), allows them to be liquid as well (and maybe even solid). Sure enough, there was a huge cloud in the tropics." Though there might be a chance of life further down in the interior of Titan.". (Op-Ed), Wide-eyed prehistoric shark hid its sharpest teeth in nightmare jaws. There was a general feeling of excitement and perplexity: what lay beneath this atmosphere? Titan’s atmosphere is unbreathable, but if you were standing on Titan you would not need a pressurized space suit, only a breathing mask and protection from the cold. Our knowledge of Titan has improved considerably over the last five years. You will receive a verification email shortly. At this temperature water ice has an extremely low vapor pressure, so the atmosphere is nearly free of water vapor. Thank you for signing up to Space. However the methane in the atmosphere causes a substantial greenhouse effect which keeps the surface of Titan at a much higher temperature than what would otherwise be the thermal equilibrium. "The cold temperature means that chemical reactions occur very slowly, so the chances of life are very slim. Future US, Inc. 11 West 42nd Street, 15th Floor, "It is much further away from the Sun," said Schaller. Stay up to date on the coronavirus outbreak by signing up to our newsletter today. © After Cassini and the successful landing of the piggyback European Space Agency Huygens probe on Titan's surface in 2005, the scientific community is already thinking about the next mission to explore Titan. "I was monitoring the weather on Titan using the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. And of all the places in the solar system, Titan is the only place besides Earth known to have liquids in the form of rivers, lakes and seas on its surface. In July 2004, NASA's Cassini space probe entered Saturn's distant realm, this time to stay for good. MATT WILLIAMS, UNIVERSE TODAY . "The year on Titan lasts about 30 Earth years. Evaporated liquids create clouds, which are carried around the planet by winds — and probably cause precipitation. The result is that I get a daily weather report for Titan.". See the Behind the Scenes Archive. Future US, Inc. 11 West 42nd Street, 15th Floor, It is instead an exotic climate of hydrocarbons that features methane and ethane. Visit our corporate site. The best Black Friday deals on Sky-Watcher telescopes and binoculars, Twilight Imperium, an epic battle through the universe, is 25% off for Black Friday, Build your own Space Base and Command Station with these Black Friday board game sales, 'Star Trek Discovery' season 3, episode 7 recap: The series' strong start feels like a different show entirely, Code like a Jedi with this Kano Star Wars The Force Coding Kit on sale for 60% off this Black Friday. Scientists try to predict what the impact of the coming Northern spring will be. In 1980, the Voyager-1 spacecraft took advantage of a flyby to take a few mysterious, yet frustrating close-ups of Titan's opaque, rusty atmosphere. Could Titan support life? Exotic concepts have been proposed, such as balloons or boats to study the lakes, as part of a so-called Titan Saturn System Mission. © "Every morning I download and process that data to determine the amount of cloud cover on Titan. Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is a mysterious place; and the more we learn about it, the more surprises it seems to have in store. We are now entering an interesting time as Titan is changing seasons," she adds. Please deactivate your ad blocker in order to see our subscription offer. You will receive a verification email shortly. (Image: © By Karl Tate, Infographics Artist). Whodunit solved when 'sword' is found embedded in thresher shark, Physicists could do the 'impossible': Create and destroy magnetic fields from afar, Megalodon nurseries reveal world’s largest shark had a soft side, Banned in 160 Nations, Why is Ractopamine in U.S. Pork? When I started my thesis, it was December 22. Thank you for signing up to Live Science. Visit our corporate site. The IRTF cannot resolve Titan's globe: it just sees a point of light. The National Science Foundation-supported Gemini telescope, equipped with adaptive optics, is able to take a resolved picture of Titan's disk to determine the latitudes and longitudes of the clouds Schaller detected with IRTF. I looked for daily changes in Titan's brightness that were due to the presence of clouds.". Since Titan is so similar to our planet, some scientists are asking whether it could even support life. You can tell when there are clouds because the dot gets brighter at certain wavelengths. Indeed, some heat could be preserved inside Titan, and last year Cassini's observations provided clues for a potential ocean of hydrocarbons under the surface. When there seemed to be a cloud showing up in Titan's atmosphere, Schaller would call her colleague Henry Roe of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., who had a target-of-opportunity proposal on the bigger 8-meter Gemini North Telescope.