August 15, 2009

Huge storm spotted on Saturn moon

A storm cell the size of India was identified on Titan, Saturn's largest moon, scientists from the California Institute of Technology said.

The methane cloud mass spotted over a cold desert area likely played a major part in shaping the area with significant amounts of precipitation, Caltech scientists wrote in the journal Nature.

The cell was found in April 2008 by Emily Schaller, now a Hubble postdoctoral fellow at the University of Arizona, Caltech and NASA said in a release Saturday.

Schaller was observing an area not known for cloud masses when a methane cloud mass appeared, generating bright, transient clouds in a region where clouds had never been seen and were thought unlikely to form, Caltech spokesman Mike Brown said.

The first cloud was seen near the tropics, Brown said, and was caused by a still-mysterious process, but it behaved almost like an explosion in the atmosphere, setting off waves that traveled around the planet, triggering their own clouds.