There is a bizarre rocky landscape, well hidden from our prying eyes, in the secretive shadows under the oceans of our Earth. Here, in this strange and alien domain, it is always as dark as midnight. Thin, tall towers of craggy rock emit billows of black smoke from their peaks, while all around the towers stand a weird, wavy multitude of red-and-white, tube-like organisms--that have no eyes, no intestines, and no mouth. These 3-foot-long tubeworms derive their energy from Earth itself, and not from the light of our nearby Sun--a feat that most biologists did not believe possible until these wormish creatures were discovered back in 2001. The extremely hot, superheated black water, billowing out from the hydrothermal vents erupting on Earth's seafloor, provides high-energy chemicals that sustain the tubeworms, as well as other weird organisms that apparently thrive in this very improbable habitat.
This important measurement was made using Cassini's INMS instrument, which detects gases with the goal of determining their composition. INMS was designed to sample the upper atmosphere of Saturn's large, smoggy moon Titan. However, after Cassini's surprising discovery of a tall plume if icy spray erupting from cracks on Enceladus in 2005, planetary scientists turned its detectors to that small moon.
Organic dust forms when organic molecules, resulting from the interaction of sunlight with methane, grow large enough to tumble down to the surface of Titan. Dr. Roderiguez continued to explain that, even though this is the first-ever observation of a dust storm on Titan, the discovery is not especially surprising.