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Mighty winds fuel megastorms on Titan

Long-lasting squalls on the Saturn moon flood the surface with liquid methane, simulations suggest

By
2:45pm, November 12, 2015
Titan

WEATHER ADVISORY  A 1,200-kilometer-wide storm blowing across Titan, seen in this 2010 image from the Cassini spacecraft, might be similar to squalls on Earth, new research suggests.

OXON HILL, Md. — Beneath the orange haze of Saturn’s moon Titan, methane rains from the sky and pools in lakes — and might even burst forth from massive storm squalls like those seen on Earth.

Titan has garden-variety thunderstorms that bring a bit of rain, then disappear. Now, the Cassini orbiter has seen phenomena that can’t be explained by these run-of-the-mill storms: cloud outbursts, liquid-carved channels and dark regions “reminiscent of rain falling on a parking lot,” planetary scientist Scot Rafkin reported November 11 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences.

Using computer simulations of cloud systems, Rafkin found that with a bit of wind shear, Titan could produce giant, long-lasting storm systems. On Titan, though, these storms would be beefed up: The squalls would last for longer than 24 hours and travel for

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