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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Cutting Through The Haze

Cutting Through The Haze

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Wednesday, December 9, 2015/Categories: natural history, photography, space science, environment, adventure


The Cassini probe orbiting Saturn has captured numerous images and other measurements of its giant moon, Titan. Using multiple fly-byes, the spacecraft's visual and infrared spectrometer has mapped the moon in blue, green, red visible light wavelengths but that only shows Titan's hazy atmosphere. Combining infrared measurements has allowed Cassini's "vision" to penetrate through the haze and reveal much of the moon's surface. A new map has allowed greater surface details to emerge.

According to Cassini engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the composite view:

"looks toward terrain that is mostly on the Saturn-facing hemisphere of Titan that features parallel, dark, dune-filled regions which form the shape of a sideways "H."
Several places show the surface at higher resolution than elsewhere called 'sub-frames', which show more detail because they were acquired near Cassini's closest Titan approach. They have finer resolution than data obtained when Cassini was farther away from the moon."

         
                                            Global Map of Titan, June 2015  (credit: Cassini, JPL)

Titan remains one of the most fascinating moons orbiting the large planets of the outer Solar System. The moon is larger than Mercury and has many similarities to Earth: a thick atmosphere, seasonal changes; winding rivers, floodplains, and deltas; and several Great Lakes. However, the differences end there. Titan's atmosphere consists almost entirely of nitrogen; temperatures drop to over -290F; water ice takes on the hardness of diamonds; and the rivers and lakes consist of liquid ethane, methane, and ammonia.

                        
                                  Rivers, Floodplain, and Delta  (credit: Cassini-Huygens, JPL)

Any life that might have evolved under such extreme conditions would be very strange by any definition, not based on water or carbon, and chances of that are slim.

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