NASA's Cassini finds massive 124-mile ice cloud on Saturn's moon Titan

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Nov 24, 2015, 10:02 AM EST (Updated)

Worried about wintry weather wreaking havoc during your Thanksgiving travel?  Nothing can compare to the city-swallowing, 124-mile ice cloud hovering over Saturn's moon Titan, acting as a harbinger to an even more ruthless winter for the satellite.  Discovered by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, this massive new ice cloud looming in Titan's stratosphere could intensify and extend the frigid 7-8-year winter cycle typically observed.

“Titan's seasonal changes continue to excite and surprise," said Scott Edgington, Cassini deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. "Cassini, with its very capable suite of instruments, will continue to periodically study how changes occur on Titan until its Solstice mission ends in 2017.”   

From the first ice cloud seen back in 2012 (above) by Cassini’s camera, scientists determined that temperatures at the south pole most likely plummet to a chilly -238 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.  Its ice particles are made up of a variety of compounds containing hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen.  

This new cloud hovers menacingly over Titan's southern polar atmosphere at 124 miles, 60 miles lower than the much smaller ice cloud discovered earlier.  Scientists detected the killer cloud using Cassini's Composite Infrared Spectrometer, which obtains exacting profiles of the atmosphere at invisible thermal wavelengths.  Titan is an area of great interest for researchers as it remains the only realm in our solar system besides Earth where stable liquid bodies are present to possibly birth alien life, although those oceans are composed of methane and ethane instead of H2O.

“When we looked at the infrared data, this ice cloud stood out like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” Carrie Anderson, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a NASA statement. “It practically smacked us in the face.  I was so excited, I pretty much fell out of my chair."