Magazine article Science News

Titan's Hazy Veil Falls toward Surface: Lower Shroud around Saturn Moon Suggests Seasonal Shift

Magazine article Science News

Titan's Hazy Veil Falls toward Surface: Lower Shroud around Saturn Moon Suggests Seasonal Shift

Article excerpt

The sky is falling on Titan. An upper layer of the Saturnian moon's hazy shroud has plunged more than 100 kilometers since the Cassini spacecraft whizzed by in 2004, suggesting that shifting seasons can do more than dump rain.

Early Cassini images revealed a smoggy world circled by a detached, hazy layer 500 kilometers above the surface. New images reveal that layer has sunk to an altitude of about 360 kilometers, Robert West of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., reported on March 19.

The layer's current altitude almost precisely matches the haze's position in 1981, when the Voyager 2 spacecraft recorded images of Titan hiding beneath the clouds. "To me, that's just astonishing," said West.

One year on Titan is the equivalent of nearly 30 years on Earth--and now, one Titan year after Voyager, the moon looks more or less as it did in 1981. When Cassini first swung by in 2004, the haze had spread outward and covered the entire moon except for the wintry north pole vortex. …

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