Titan never ceases to amaze. Saturn’s largest moon, it’s wrapped in a complex, multi-layered nitrogen-and-methane atmosphere ten times thicker than Earth’s. It has seasons and weather, as evidenced by the occasional formation of large bright clouds and, more recently, an area of open-cell convection forming over its south pole. Titan even boasts the distinction of being the only other world in the Solar System besides Earth with large amounts of liquid existing on its surface, although there in the form of exotic methane lakes and streams.
We have NASA’s Cassini spacecraft to thank for these discoveries, and now there’s one more for the ceaseless explorer to add to its list: Titan glows in the dark.
Seen above in two versions of the same calibrated raw image, acquired by Cassini on May 7, 2009, Titan hovers in front of a background field of stars which appear as blurred streaks due to the 560 seconds (about 9 1/2 minutes) exposure time and the relative motion of the spacecraft.
The image on the left shows Titan in visible light, receiving reflected sunlight off Saturn itself — “Saturnshine” — while the moon was on the ringed planet’s night side. The image on the right was processed to exclude this reflected light… and yet it still shines. (E pur si candeo?)