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.
"This is the closest we've come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment. These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA's science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not," commented Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen in an April 13, 2017 NASA Press Release. Dr. Zurbuchen is associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington D.C.
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.