The above image was taken by the Cassini space probe of the south pole of Titan, one of Saturn’s largest moons. The swirling vortex is a mixture of gases, an indication that it’s almost winter on Titan.
What we’re seeing here is thought to be an open cell convection process in Titan’s upper atmosphere. In open cells, air sinks in the center of the cell and rises at the edge, forming clouds at cell edges. However, because the scientists can’t see the layer underneath the layer visible in these new images, they don’t know what other mechanisms may be at work.
Titan has already been seen to have a thicker area of high-altitude haze over its north pole, and as autumn progresses toward winter in Titan’s south during the course of Saturn’s 29.7-year-long orbit this may very well be the beginnings of a southern polar hood.
“We suspect that this maelstrom, clearly forming now over the south pole and spinning more than forty times faster than the moon’s solid body, may be a harbinger of what will ultimately become a south polar hood as autumn there turns to winter. Of course, only time will tell.” – Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging Team Leader
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