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December 19, 2009

NASA flyby of Saturn moon Titan produces first image of liquid on another world

NASA flyby of Saturn moon Titan produces first image of liquid on another world

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

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The historic image shows a telltale bright reflection

NASA have revealed that a flyby of its probe Cassini past Titan, a moon of Saturn, has produced a historic image: the first photograph showing liquid on a world other than our own.

The picture shows a “specular reflection” from an extremely smooth surface, in this case a liquid. Cassini has been trying to spot one since arriving in 2004, and in 2008 used infrared data to prove that there were liquid methane lakes down there. The northern hemisphere has only been visible since August 2009, as before then it was covered by winter weather. Most of Titan’s lakes are in the north.

“This one image communicates so much about Titan — thick atmosphere, surface lakes and an otherworldliness. It’s an unsettling combination of strangeness yet similarity to Earth,” said Bob Pappalardo, a Cassini scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Titan’s atmosphere is, like Earth’s, mainly nitrogen, but temperatures on the icy world are around -180°C. This reduces the prospect of life, although the presence of liquid does increase the likelihood.

The lake seen in the photograph is called Kraken Mare, and at 150,000 square miles (400,000 square kilometers), it isn’t the largest basin on north Titan, but it is bigger than the Earth’s biggest lake, the Caspian Sea.

Ralf Jaumann, another Cassini scientist, spoke of the team’s hopes for the future. “Next, we want to find out more about Titan’s liquid. Do we have some kind of weather there? Do we have changes with seasons? Does it rain? How does the liquid methane run across the surface?”

A team of scientists are due to propose to NASA that the agency drop a boat into a Titan lake, with Kraken Mare and the similarly sized Ligeia Mare being hot candidates. The Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) is projected to be relatively low-cost at US$400 million and would investigate the composition, density and shape of a Titan lake. If launched in 2016 it could arrive in 2023 and spend several years floating on the moon. However, several other projects are also keen to get themselves the next opportunity NASA is offering for the launch of a new project other than its own.



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March 21, 2008

Scientists say that a \’global layer of water\’ exists on Saturn\’s moon Titan

Scientists say that a ‘global layer of water’ exists on Saturn’s moon Titan

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Friday, March 21, 2008

This graphic depicts a cross-section of Saturn’s moon, Titan.
Image: NASA/JPL.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has discovered evidence that points to the existence of an underground ocean of water and ammonia on Saturn’s moon Titan.

“We believe that about 100 kilometers (62 miles) beneath the ice and organic-rich surface is an internal ocean of liquid water mixed with ammonia,” said Bryan Stiles of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

If the findings turn out to be true, this will be the fourth such moon in our solar system found to have some form of water on it. Currently only three other moons, all from Jupiter, have been found to have known water sources. Ganymede, Callisto and Europa are so far the only known moons with a water source.

Cassini pre launch, in 1997
Image: NASA.

Members of the mission’s science team used Cassini’s Synthetic Aperture Radar to collect imaging data during 19 separate passes over Titan between October 2005 and May 2007. The radar can see through Titan’s dense, methane-rich atmospheric haze, detailing never-before-seen surface features and establishing their locations on the moon’s surface.

Using data from the radar’s early observations, the scientists and radar engineers established the locations of 50 unique landmarks on Titan’s surface. They then searched for these same lakes, canyons and mountains in the reams of data returned by Cassini in its later flybys of Titan. They found prominent surface features had shifted from their expected positions by up to 30 kilometers (19 miles). A systematic displacement of surface features would be difficult to explain unless the moon’s icy crust was decoupled from its core by an internal ocean, making it easier for the crust to move.

Cassini scientists will not have long to wait before another go at Titan. On March 25, just prior to its closest approach at an altitude of 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), Cassini will employ its Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer to examine Titan’s upper atmosphere. Immediately after closest approach, the spacecraft’s Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer will capture high-resolution images of Titan’s southeast quadrant.

The study of Titan is a major goal of the Cassini-Huygens mission because it may preserve, in deep-freeze, many of the chemical compounds that preceded life on Earth. Titan is the only moon in the solar system that possesses a dense atmosphere. The moon’s atmosphere is 1.5 times denser than Earth’s. Titan is the largest of Saturn’s moons, bigger than the planet Mercury.



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January 4, 2007

Saturn\’s moon Titan hosts liquid lakes and rivers

Saturn’s moon Titan hosts liquid lakes and rivers

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Thursday, January 4, 2007

This colorized radar view from Cassini shows lakes on Titan. Color intensity is proportional to how much radar brightness is returned.

The Cassini Spacecraft has taken images from July 22, 2006 that show rivers and lakes present on Saturn’s moon Titan.

“At the time we first announced it, we were like, ‘Well, we think these are probably lakes,’ but that was about our level of confidence. I would say at this point, we’ve analyzed the data to the extent that we feel very confident that they are liquid-filled lakes,” said University College London and Caltech and Cassini team member, Ellen Stofan.

The rivers and lakes are likely to contain ethane or methane in a liquid form, but the liquids are said to “act like water” and are “clear” like water. Both ethane and methane are organic gases on Earth.

“Dark surfaces are smooth and most likely liquid, rock, ice or organics. More than 75 radar-dark patches or lakes were seen, ranging from 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) to more than 70 kilometers (43 miles) across. Some lakes appear partly dry, while others seem liquid-filled. Some of the partly filled lakes may never have filled fully, or may have partly evaporated at some point in the past. The dry lakes have margins or rims and a radar brightness similar to the rest of the surrounding terrain, making them appear devoid of liquid,” said a statement by NASA on their website.

“It’s going to behave like water. It’s transparent just the way water is. So if you were standing by the shoreline, you would be able to see down to whatever pebbles or gunk that was on the bottom. As far as we know, there is only one planetary body that displays more dynamism than Titan, and its name is Earth,” added Stofan.

Cassini will be performing at least 22 more flybys of Titan. The next flyby is expected to take place this month.

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September 18, 2006

Ethane clouds found on Titan

Ethane clouds found on Titan – Wikinews, the free news source

Ethane clouds found on Titan

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Monday, September 18, 2006

The vast ethane cloud can be seen in all images as a reddish band just north of 50 degrees latitude.

The spacecraft Cassini-Huygens has discovered ethane clouds using the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer [VIMS] on Saturn’s moon, Titan. The spacecraft also suggested that ethane “rain” and “snow” may be falling from the clouds into liquid methane lakes.

“Our observations imply that surface deposits of ethane should be found specifically at the poles, rather than globally distributed across Titan’s disk as previously assumed. That may partially explain the lack of liquid ethane oceans and clouds at Titan’s middle and lower latitudes,” University of Arizona planetary scientist Caitlin Griffith in a statement on the Cassini-Huygens website.

“We think that ethane is raining or, if temperatures are cool enough, snowing on the north pole right now. When the seasons switch, we expect ethane to condense at the south pole during its winter,” added Griffith.

Cassini recently took pictures of what scientists call “lakes and oceans” on Titan and scientists now believe that the oceans, filled with methane, may also be “rich” with ethane.

“We now know that Titan’s surface is largely devoid of lakes and oceans. During the polar winters, we expect the lowlands to cradle methane lakes that are rich with ethane. Perhaps these are the lakes recently imaged by Cassini,” said Griffith.

VIMS first detected the clouds during flybys in December 2004 and September and August 2005.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

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July 30, 2006

Cassini photographs possible lakes on Saturn\’s moon, Titan

Cassini photographs possible lakes on Saturn’s moon, Titan

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Two radar images from Cassini that show very strong evidence for hydrocarbon lakes on Titan. Dark patches, which resemble terrestrial lakes, seem to be sprinkled all over the high latitudes surrounding Titan’s north pole.

Cassini, a European and United States space probe, has taken pictures of what appear to be lakes on the surface of Saturn’s moon, Titan. If the findings are confirmed, then Titan will be the only other planetary mass, other than Earth, to have liquid lakes on their surfaces. Some of the ‘lakes’ also contain channels that lead to and from them. The lakes are believed to have been formed by rainfall of liquid methane or ethane.

Some radar images of the lakes and channels leading to and from them, show areas of black, which indicate that there is no image to display and scientists say that it could mean the surface of the ‘lakes’ are very smooth and flat.

“What we see is darker than anything we’ve ever seen elsewhere on Titan. It was almost as though someone laid a bull’s-eye around the whole north pole of Titan, and Cassini sees these regions of lakes just like those we see on Earth,” said U.S. Geological Survey Cassini interdisciplinary scientist, Larry Soderblom.

So far scientists have found at least 12 lakes which range between 6 and 62 miles wide.

“It was a real potpourri,” said University of Arizona Cassini scientist, Jonathan Lunine.

“We’ve always believed Titan’s methane had to be maintained by liquid lakes or extensive underground ‘methanofers,’ the methane equivalent of aquifers. We can’t see methanofers but we can now say we’ve seen lakes ,” added Lunine.

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January 21, 2005

Methane Rain in Titan\’s Rivers

Methane Rain in Titan’s Rivers – Wikinews, the free news source

Methane Rain in Titan’s Rivers

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Friday, January 21, 2005

Images from the Huygens probe show that liquid methane flows through and into Titan’s rivers, channels, lakes, springs, and other as-yet-undiscovered bodies of liquid. Titan is Saturn’s largest moon, and the moon the Cassini-Huygens probe is inspecting.

The image (right) sent back from Titan via Huygens shows the terrain carved by the liquid methane. Deltas and rivers may be flowing with the substance.

The methane rain causes erosion to the planet’s land surface, carving out features like rivers in which the liquid methane and possibly other fluids flow.

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January 14, 2005

Huygens probe lands on Saturn\’s moon Titan, returns pictures

Filed under: Archived,Saturn (planet),Space,Titan (moon) — admin @ 5:00 am

Huygens probe lands on Saturn’s moon Titan, returns pictures

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Friday, January 14, 2005

Huygens, the European built Titan exploration probe, ended its seven-year voyage today when it landed on the surface of the second largest moon in the solar system at 11:38 a.m. UTC. The probe, which the European Space Agency (ESA) began developing 17 years ago, has worked well with only minor system failures.

“This is a great achievement for Europe and its US partners in this ambitious international endeavor to explore the Saturnian system”, said Jean-Jacques Dordain, the Director General of the ESA [1]

The first confirmation that Huygens had successfully entered Titan’s thick atmosphere was at 10:25 a.m. UTC when the Green Bank radio telescope in the United States directly received the faint carrier signal of its beacon. Due to the immense distance, the radio transmission took 67 minutes to arrive.

Huygens broadcast data to its Cassini mothership (the US probe which carried Huygens to Titan) throughout its descent and then from the surface. After Cassini dropped below the horizon of Titan (cutting the radio link), Cassini turned towards Earth to begin transmitting its recording of the Huygens data to the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

So far, ESA has released least three pictures—two from the probe’s descent through the atmosphere under parachutes and then a picture near the surface. The Huygens probe took a total of over 300 black and white photographs during its brief mission.

“The Huygens scientists are all delighted. This was worth the long wait,” says Dr Jean-Pierre Lebreton, ESA Huygens Mission Manager. [2]

The Cassini-Huygens mission is conducted by an alliance between NASA, the ESA, and ASI, the Italian space agency. The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

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January 13, 2005

Huygens moon probe to land on Titan

Huygens moon probe to land on Titan – Wikinews, the free news source

Huygens moon probe to land on Titan

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Thursday, January 13, 2005

File:Huygen probe-decent nasa.jpg

Huygens probe descent to Titan. (illustration by NASA)
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

The Huygens Probe will enter the atmosphere of Saturn‘s largest moon, Titan, on January 14 at approximately 9 a.m. UTC.

The 318 kg probe will hit the Titan atmosphere at 6 kilometers per second. For the next 2.5 hours, Huygens will slow its descent and begin data transmission from on-board scientific packages to the Cassini Orbiter for relay to Earth. It will touch down on the Titan surface at approximately 11:30 a.m. UTC. The probe will continue data transmission for three to 30 minutes, providing it survives the descent and landing.

NASA launched Cassini-Huygens, the largest interplanetary space craft ever built, on October 15, 1997. The craft arrived at Saturn orbit in July of 2004. It is the fourth craft to visit Saturn and the first to orbit the planet.

On December 25, 2004, the Cassini Orbiter released the Huygens Probe. The probe then began a 20-day trip to Titan.

Experiments on board the Huygens Probe are designed to examine chemical reactions in the atmosphere, the source of Titan’s abundant methane gas, the existence of oceans, and the presence of complex organic compounds.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).

The probe was named after Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, who discovered Titan in 1655.

The Cassini orbiter was named for Jean-Dominique Cassini, who discovered other moons of Saturn and the gap between Saturn’s rings known as the Cassini Division.

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  • Wikipedia-logo-v2.svg Cassini-Huygens

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