Scientists have recently discovered that intense methane rainstorms strike the largest moon of Saturn, Titan, more often than expected. It leads to severe floods in the territories of the satellite, which are otherwise deserts.
As per a report by University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), these methane storms occur less than once every Titan year, which is equivalent to 29-and-a-half Earth years, and they play a significant role in shaping up the icy surface of Titan.
"I would have thought these would be once-a-millennium events," said Jonathan Mitchell, Associate Professor of Planetary Science at UCLA. "So this is quite a surprise," said Mitchell, the principal investigator of UCLA's Titan climate modelling research group.
According to Mitchell, Titan's surface is quite similar to that of the Earth. It has flowing rivers, which spill into great lakes and also the Saturn's satellite has storm clouds, which causes seasonal, monsoon-like downpours. However, the difference is that Titan's precipitation is liquid methane and not water.
"The most intense methane storms in our climate model dump at least a foot of rain a day, which comes close to what we saw in Houston from Hurricane Harvey this summer," said Mitchell.
The study also found out that these methane rainstorms may imprint Titan's ice surface similar to how extreme rainstorms form the Earth's rocky surface, stated Sean Faulk, a UCLA graduate student and the study's lead author.
On Earth, severe storms sometimes trigger huge flows of sediment which then spread into the low lands. They form cone-shaped features called alluvial fans. Scientists discovered that patterns of excessive rainfall on Titan are connected to the recent detections of alluvial fans. It suggests that those were indeed formed by intense rainstorms.
This latest finding exhibits the role of extreme precipitation in shaping up Titan's surface, said Seulgi Moon, Assistant Professor at UCLA.