Saturn’s Moon Titan May Have Tropical Cyclones

Titan, Saturn's moon, may have tropical cyclones

Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, may have more in common with earth than we thought — including the ability to undergo a tropical cyclone season. University of Cologne’s Tetsuya Tokano just published his investigation of whether or not Titan could experience the storms around its polar regions in the current issue of the journal Icarus.

As the largest moon orbiting the beautiful ringed gas giant, Titan has captured the imagination ever since its discovery in 1665. That fascination got a boost with the discovery that the moon holds a methane atmosphere that might be similar to the one that sparked the beginnings of life on the early earth.

Saturn orbits the sun from nine to 10 times the distance that the earth does. Therefore, Titan is so cold that it has methane, instead of water, rain.

Nonetheless, Tokano said that it’s possible in the local summer that the region around its north pole might get warmed up enough to experience storms with wind speeds of up to 44 miles an hour — five mph more than needed to qualify as a tropical storm on earth.

For the record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hurricane Research Division said that, “There are no other planets known to have warm water oceans from which true water cloud hurricanes can form.” If you judge by chemical composition as well as wind speed, the Titan storms can’t qualify because they’re methane instead of water-based.

However, if you are just looking for large circular formations of storms that could ruin your whole day, the champion hurricane may still be Jupiter’s red spot. Three earths could fit inside the gigantic circulating high pressure system, which has been going on for over 400 years.

This photograph, taken by the Cassini orbiter, shows Titan against the background of Saturn. If you look to the right, through the haze of Titan’s atmosphere, you can also see Saturn’s fourth-largest moon, Dione.

Titan, with smaller moon, and its planet Saturn

The beautiful images are tempting, but if they are going to insist on having hurricanes even in outer space, this New Orleans resident for one might just stay home. Had you ever dreamed that Titan’s atmosphere could generate tropical cyclones?

[Cassini mission photos courtesy NASA]