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This cloud in the stratosphere over Titan’s north pole (left) is similar to Earth’s polar stratospheric clouds (right). NASA scientists found that Titan’s cloud contains methane ice, which was not previously thought to form in that part of the atmosphere. Cassini first spotted the cloud in 2006. Description: NASA scientists have identified an unexpected high-altitude methane ice cloud on Saturn's moon Titan that is similar to exotic clouds found far above Earth's poles. This lofty cloud, imaged by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, was part of the winter cap of condensation over Titan's north pole. Now, eight years after spotting this mysterious bit of atmospheric fluff, researchers have determined that it contains methane ice, which produces a much denser cloud than the ethane ice previously identified there.


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Titan is the largest moon of Saturn and the second-largest natural satellite in the Solar System. It is the only moon known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only known body in space, other than Earth, where clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found.


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The first global geologic map of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is based on radar and visible and infrared images from NASA's Cassini mission, which orbited Saturn from 2004 to 2017. Black lines mark 30 degrees of latitude and longitude. Map is in Mollweide projection, a global view that attempts to minimize the size or area distortion, especially at the poles (although shapes are increasingly distorted away from the center of the map). It is centered on 0 degrees latitude, 180 degrees longitude. Map scale is 1:20,000,000. In the annotated figure, the map is labeled with several of the named surface features. Also located is the landing site of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Huygens Probe, part of NASA's Cassini mission. The map legend colors represent the broad types of geologic units found on Titan: plains (broad, relatively flat regions), labyrinth (tectonically disrupted regions often containing fluvial channels), hummocky (hilly, with some mountains), dunes (mostly linear dunes, produced by winds in Titan's atmosphere), craters (formed by impacts) and lakes (regions now or previously filled with liquid methane or ethane). Titan is the only planetary body in our solar system other than Earth known to have stable liquid on its surface — methane and ethane. The map was developed using Cassini radar data and Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS) images.


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Sunset studies on Titan by Cassini help to better understand exoplanet atmospheres (artist's concept).


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