Weather Report From Titan: It's Raining Methane (Hallelujah)

By Patrick Morgan | March 18, 2011 5:28 pm

What’s the News: Images sent back from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft depict storm clouds and methane rain puddles, the first solid evidence of modern rainfall on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. “We’re pretty confident that it has just rained on Titan,” lead author Elizabeth Turtle, from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, told Wired. Astronomers have previous evidence of sulfuric-acid precipitation on Venus, but it doesn’t count as rainfall because it never reaches the surface.

What’s the Olds:

Not So Fast: Don’t read too much into these showers: Methane rain doesn’t mean life. The search continues.

    Reference: “Rapid and Extensive Surface Changes Near Titan’s Equator: Evidence of April Showers.” E.P. Turtle, J.E. Perry, A.G. Hayes, R.D. Lorenz, J.W. Barnes, A.S. McEwen, R.A. West, A.D. Del Genio, J.M. Barbara, J.I. Lunine, E.L. Schaller, T.L. Ray, R.M.C. Lopes, E.R. Stofan. Science, Vol 331, March 18, 2011. DOI: 10.1126/science.1201063

    Image: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

    MORE ABOUT: Cassini, moon, Saturn, Titan
    • Iain

      Sorry folks but Science fiction writers have been doing it for years. Yes it is nice to have some confirmation, but, this is a heat cycle that has been predicted many, many times, so Newton was right again (thermodynamics).

    • scott

      I seriously doubt we will find any other life in the solar system (that exists presently). It’s all fascinating to study, ready about and see in pics, but I think too much time and money is being spent to find microbes elsewhere while hundreds of fantastic species and their habitats are being destroyed here.

      I believe there are many worlds filled with incredible life, like earth, scattered about the universe (that previously exisited, or are currently evolving, or will), but it seems like we are so desperate to find something else, ignoring so many issues here. And then what? So what if we spend trillions to find a bacterial or protozoan-like creature in some pocket of water on some moon it takes 7 years to get to. What then? Will that bring us solice, peace and sense of well being or help us mentally find a place in the vast universe? My point is that so much more money and scientific man power needs to go into preserving and developing a stable system here. Why do we want to spend trillions to go to a toxic world (Titan)? To do what? What real purpose besides curiosity would we go there?

    • Chris

      @Scott I’d put even money on finding life in Europa. Titan, I doubt it.

    • Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

      @Scott: I don’t think anybody’s suggesting [well, no one who’s, uh, sane] spending “trillions” to send people to Titan. By sending probes there, we could learn about the evolution of moons and solar systems and potentially about what forms life could take on other bodies much different from ours. I think probes like that might costs hundreds of millions of $—maybe single-figure billions. [Estimating those figures—can’t seem to find Titan landers listed on Amazon.] Not exactly cheap, but finding life on other planets/moons besides ours would be pretty exciting.

    • s

      Scott – i think your missing the whole point.

      Not only is about exploration…but it is also about technological development and advancement.

      Think of the everyday technology we have now based on the drive to go to the moon.

    • Rick

      The greatest boon in finding life else where is that, if it proves to be related to our own, it will help quash the creationist myths. Eliminating those myths will go along way in ridding ourselves of evil.


    Discover's Newsletter

    Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


    80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

    See More

    Collapse bottom bar