NASA Stennis Center



Enshrouded in a dense golden hydrocarbon mist, Saturn's largest moon Titan is a mysterious mesmerizing world in its own right. For centuries, Titan's veiled, frigid surface was completely camouflaged by this hazy golden-orange cloud-cover that hid its icy surface from the prying eyes of curious observers on Earth. However, this misty moisty moon-world was finally forced to show its mysterious face, long-hidden behind its obscuring veil of fog, when the Cassini Spacecraft's Huygens Probe landed on its surface in 2004, sending revealing pictures back to astronomers on Earth. In September 2018, astronomers announced that new data obtained from Cassini show what appear to be gigantic, roaring dust storms, raging through the equatorial regions of Titan. The discovery, announced in the September 24, 2018 issue of the journal Nature Geoscience, makes this oddball moon-world the third known object in our Solar System--in addition to Earth and Mars--where ferocious dust storms have been observed. The observations are now shedding new light on the fascinating and dynamic environment of Titan, which is the second largest moon in our Solar System, after Ganymede of Jupiter. We live in a Cosmic "shooting gallery". Objects inhabiting our Solar System have been profusely and mercilessly blasted by showering asteroids and comets for billions and billions of years. However, planets and large moons have their way of smoothing away the scars--their strong gravity pulls them into a nice ball-like spherical shape. Furthermore, some of these larger spheres possess sufficient internal heat to cause flows of fiery lava and other volcanic features that can fill in the scars of impact craters. A few such large bodies are blasted by strong winds and pouring rains, which also erode away the pockmarks left on their surfaces by showering impactors. The astronomers found that larger craters, which excavated pits much deeper into the Moon's surface, only increased porosity in the underlying crust. This indicates that these deeper layers have not reached a steady state in porosity, and are not as fractured as the megaregolith.