Cassini’s Infrared Eyes Aimed at Titan Again

Titan (T-90) Flyby, Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
Titan (T-90) Flyby
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Cassini’s next flyby is another encounter with Titan! If you want to know more about flybys in general, check out this link.

Quick Facts:

  • Name Titan (T-90) Flyby
  • Date April 5, 2013 [SCET]
  • Altitude 870 miles (1,400 kilometers)
  • Speed 13,000 mph (5.8 km/sec)
  • Goal To image regions of Titan’s surface in high-resolution


What will we be able to see?

Cassini’s camera system, also known as the Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS) instrument onboard the Cassini spacecraft, will image Titan’s upper haze layers. ISS will also be imaging the region where extensive surface changes were observed in Fall 2010 and an area at Titan’s mid-southern latitudes in order to monitor cloud activity. Here are some examples of what to expect:

Simulated images of Titan during this flyby, taken by Cassini’s ISS
Left: Imaging Titan’s high-level hazes. Right: Monitoring clouds in Titan’s southern hemisphere.
Credit: Celestia/CICLOPS

Images from the ISS will be coming out in a matter of hours after the flyby. However, Cassini’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) instrument will also be taking images of Titan, but they won’t be available for some time. VIMS will be taking high-resolution images of Titan’s surface, including one of its craters, Menrva and the western part of Xanadu, including Tui Regio.

Titan's crater, Menrva. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASI
Titan’s crater, Menrva
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI
Titan Map, highlighint Xanadu. Credit: user JRehling on UnmannedSpaceflight.com
Titan Map, highlighing the region Xanadu.
Credit: JRehling/UnmannedSpaceflight.com

VIMS will also image Titan’s southern mid-latitude south of Adiri and its northern mid-latitudes to look for clouds. Ontario Lacus, Titan’s “footprint” lake near its south pole will also be imaged.

Titan's "Footprint": Ontario Lacus, Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASI
Titan’s “Footprint”: Ontario Lacus
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI

What science will be coming out of this flyby?

Cassini’s Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) instrument will make a spectral scan of Titan’s night side and sunlit crescent, will scan across Titan in order to map temperatures in its stratosphere, and will scan across Titan’s limb to measure aerosol and chemical abundances at different altitudes above Titan’s surface.

Cassini’s Dual Technique Magnetometer (MAG) instrument will study the diffusion of the external magnetic field at low altitudes and high solar zenith angles.

Sources

Want to know more in-depth information on this flyby? Check out Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations’ (CICLOPS) website with information on Cassini’s activities every day: http://www.ciclops.org/view/7594/Rev185 and this neat pdf from Cassini’s main websiteQuick-Look Flyby Facts. (All of my information from this post, unless otherwise specified, comes from these great sources.)

Images

Now that all of the images have come in from the flyby, let’s take a look!

The image below is an approximate true color image of Titan’s haze layers, taken by the ISS on April 5, 2013. Titan’s upper haze layers appear blue, while its main atmospheric haze appear orange in this view. The difference in color is most likely due to particle size rather than composition. The blue haze probably consists of smaller particles than the orange haze.

Up close and personal with the haze, Credit: NASA / JPL / SSI / composite by Val Klavans
Up close and personal with the haze, Credit: NASA / JPL / SSI / composite by Val Klavans

Below is a true color image of Titan, snapped by the ISS on April 6, 2013. Titan’s south polar vortex (a mass of swirling gas located at the south pole) can be spotted at the bottom right.

Titan's 91st Flyby, Credit: NASA / JPL / SSI / composite by Val Klavans
Titan’s 91st Flyby, Credit: NASA / JPL / SSI / composite by Val Klavans

Cassini’s ISS also made some shots of Titan’s surface. In the image below, the darker areas are regions of equatorial dunes (made of hydrocarbons). One of the most famous features is Adiri. It appears to be filled with drainage channels! The Huygens probe landed on a plain just off the northwest ‘coast’ of Adiri in 2005. Located to the left of Adiri is Titan’s “sand sea” Belet. Its dunes have even been compared to Earth’s Oman dunes in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. (Read more about that here.) If you are interested in learning more about Titan’s features, the IAU’s Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature is pretty useful!

Seeing to the surface, Credit: NASA / JPL / SSI / edited by Val Klavans
Seeing to the surface, Credit: NASA / JPL / SSI / edited by Val Klavans

Did you notice that circular object in the image above? It actually has nothing to do with Titan at all! It’s an out of focus dust speck on Cassini’s camera.

If you want to see more images from the flyby, check out the event page I made for the flyby on Facebook.

***

Well that wraps up coverage of the Titan (T-90) Flyby! Cassini’s next flyby: Titan (T-91) Flyby occurs on May 23 so get excited!

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