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Cassini has been watching Titan's summer clouds

Researchers hope Cassini's ongoing survey of Titan and its seasonal changes will improve the models they've designed to predict the moon's weather.

By Brooks Hays

PASADENA, Calif., Nov. 7 (UPI) -- As winter begins to grab hold of Titan's southern hemisphere, NASA's Cassini probe has turned its attention to warmer climes in the north.

Most recently, Cassini surveyed the atmospheric conditions atop the moon's north pole -- a mission that involved cloud watching.

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A series of images captured by the probe show small bands of clouds forming and fading along the northern latitudes of Saturn's largest moon.

NASA scientists pieced together images to form a movie. Each frame is formed by one of the probe's images, captured 20 minutes apart over the course of 11 hours.

The most obvious clouds are a row of faint white streaks between 49 and 55 degrees north latitude. They appear to move from west to east, briefly brightening and then fading. Scientists estimated the clouds' speed between 14 and 22 miles per hour.

The movie also reveals smaller, fainter clouds within Titan's northernmost polar region. The clouds form between Neagh Lacus and Punga Mare, two liquid hydrocarbons lakes made up mostly of methane and ethane.

Models of Titan's atmosphere and season weather system predict greater polar cloud cover than has been observed as of late. Researchers hope Cassini's ongoing survey of Titan and its seasonal changes will improve such models.

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