A team of researchers working on the NASA Cassini mission, which came to an end on september 15th of this year, have discovered a noxious ice cloud high above the south pole of Saturn’s moon, Titan.
Although the Cassini spacecraft met a fiery end by burning up through Saturn’s atmosphere, NASA are still analysing huge amounts of data from the mission.
The team state, “The finding is a new demonstration of the complex chemistry occurring in Titan’s atmosphere—in this case, cloud formation in the giant moon’s stratosphere—and part of a collection of processes that ultimately helps deliver a smorgasbord of organic molecules to Titan’s surface”.
The cloud isn’t visible with the human eye and was detected using an instrument on the Cassini spacecraft called, CIRS (Composite Infrared Spectrometer) meaning the cloud has been detected at infrared wavelengths.
Located at approximately 100 - 130 miles in altitude, the cloud is far above the methane rain clouds of Titan’s troposphere, the lowest region of it’s atmosphere.
Researchers performed a number of lab experiments to match the chemical spectrum of the cloud measured by CIRS.
The results show the exotic ice cloud is comprised of “simple organic molecule hydrogen cyanide together with the large ring-shaped chemical benzene. The two chemicals appear to have condensed at the same time to form ice particles, rather than one being layered on top of the other”.
“This cloud represents a new chemical formula of ice in Titan’s atmosphere”, said Carrie Anderson of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.