Cassini VIMS observations show ethane is present in Titan's rainfall

Paul A. Dalba, Bonnie J. Buratti, Robert H. Brown, Jason W. Barnes, Kevin H. Baines, Christophe Sotin, Roger N. Clark, Kenneth J. Lawrence, Philip D. Nicholson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Observations obtained over two years by the Cassini Imaging Science Subsystem suggest that rain showers fall on the surface. Using measurements obtained by the Visual Infrared Mapping Spectrometer, we identify the main component of the rain to be ethane, with methane as an additional component. We observe five or six probable rainfall events, at least one of which follows a brief equatorial cloud appearance, suggesting that frequent rainstorms occur on Titan. The rainfall evaporates, sublimates, or infiltrates on timescales of months, and in some cases it is associated with fluvial features but not with their creation or alteration. Thus, Titan exhibits frequent "gentle rainfall" instead of, or in addition to, more catastrophic events that cut rivers and lay down large fluvial deposits. Freezing rain may also be present, and the standing liquid may exist as puddles interspersed with patches of frost. The extensive dune deposits found in the equatorial regions of Titan imply multi-season arid conditions there, which are consistent with small, but possibly frequent, amounts of rain, in analogy to terrestrial deserts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL24
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 20 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • planets and satellites: individual (Titan)
  • planets and satellites: surfaces

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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