The puzzling appearance of an ice cloud seemingly out of thin air in the stratosphere of Titan has prompted NASA scientists to suggest that a different process than previously thought — possibly similar to one seen over Earth’s poles — could be forming clouds in the giant Saturnian moon’s hazy, brownish-orange atmosphere.
New research suggests that some of Saturn’s icy moons, as well as its famous rings, might be modern adornments. Their dramatic birth may have taken place a mere 100 million years ago. This would date the formation of the major moons of Saturn, with the exception of more distant Titan and Iapetus, to the relatively recent Cretaceous Period — the era of the dinosaurs.
By convention, mountains on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, are named for mountains from Middle-earth, the fictional setting in fantasy novels by J.R.R. Tolkien. Unfortunately for “Lord of the Rings” fans, Titan’s highest peak is not Doom Mons, but a trio of ridges known as Mithrim Montes, where the tallest peak is 10,948 feet (3,337 metres) high.
In this image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft we see a crater duo on Saturn’s 698-mile-wide moon Dione. The upper of the pair, named Italus, is overprinted on a grouping of ancient troughs called Petelia Fossae. The lower crater, Caieta, sits atop a feature named Helorus Fossa. Fossae on Dione are believed to be tectonic features.
You might think that, in the rings of Saturn, more opaque areas contain a greater concentration of material than places where the rings seem more transparent. But this intuition does not always apply, according to a recent study of the rings using data from NASA’s Cassini mission. The research also suggests that the planet’s brightest B ring could be a few hundred million years old instead of a few billion.