Planet Moons 2



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. Vast regions of dark dunes also extend across Titan's exotic landscape, especially around its equatorial regions. Unlike Earth's sand, the "sand" that creates Titan's dunes is composed of dark grains of hydrocarbon that resemble coffee grounds. The tall linear dunes of this misty moisty moon-world appear to be quite similar to those seen in the desert of Namibia in Africa. Because Titan's surface is pockmarked by relatively few impact craters, its surface is considered to be quite young. Older surfaces display heavier cratering than more youthful surfaces, whose craters have been "erased" by resurfacing. This resurfacing is caused by processes that cover the scars left by old impacts as time goes by. Our own planet is similar to Titan in this respect. The craters of Earth are erased by the ongoing processes of flowing liquid (water on Earth), powerful winds, and the recycling of Earth's crust as a result of plate-tectonics. These processes also occur on Titan, but in modified forms. In particular, the shifting of the ground resulting from pressures coming from beneath (plate tectonics), also appear to be at work on this veiled moon-world. However, planetary scientists have not seen signs of plates on Titan that are analogous to those of our own planet. Until 2004, no spacecraft had visited Saturn for more than twenty years. Pioneer 11 took the very first close-up images of Saturn when it flew past in 1979. After that flyby, Voyager 1 had its rendezvous about a year later, and in August 1981 Voyager 2 had its brief, but glorious, encounter. Nearly a quarter of a century then passed before new high-resolution images of this beautiful, ringed planet were beamed back to Earth.