A Fresh Look at Titan’s Northern Lakes and Seas

Credit: NASA / JPL
NASA / JPL

Are you ready for Cassini’s 95th flyby of Titan? (Wait… why is it the 95th flyby and not the 94thHere’s why.) Feel free to follow along with the latest information and images from the flyby on my Facebook event page: Titan (T-94) Flyby.

Quick Facts:

  • Name Titan (T-94) Flyby
  • Date September 12, 2013 [SCET]
  • Time 7:43 AM UTC
  • Altitude 870 miles (1,400 kilometers)
  • Speed 13,000 mph (5.8 km/sec)
  • Goal To get a new look at Titan’s north polar lakes and seas

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 concentrate on imaging Titan’s upper haze layers, north polar region, northern leading hemisphere, and southern anti-Saturn hemisphere during this flyby. Imaging of Titan’s northern hemisphere will provide more information on the distribution and shapes of lakes in the north polar region and fill in the largest gap in ISS’ map of Titan. ISS will also image a section of Titan’s north polar region in high resolution: from Punga Mare (the  third largest known body of liquid on Titan) to Neagh Lacus.

The image below is part of a mosaic of Titan’s north polar region, taken by Cassini’s RADAR instrument (not during this flyby). Titan’s lakes and seas are shown in blue and black. Punga Mare and Neagh Lacus are circled in red to show their locations. Click on the image below to see the full mosaic.

Titan’s North Polar Lakes and Seas Credit: NASA / JPL / USGS
Close-up of Titan’s North Polar Lakes and Seas
NASA / JPL / USGS

What science will be coming out of this flyby?

For the very first time, Cassini’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) instrument will take images of Punga Mare (Titan’s third largest sea). VIMS will also capture the area surrounding Punga Mare, including Ligeia Mare (Titan’s second largest sea) and some of Titan’s smaller bodies of liquid like Mackay Lacus.  These images can be compared to earlier images of the same region, so we can learn more about seasonal variations. VIMS will look at clouds over Titan’s north and south poles to monitor the evolution of cloud systems as Titan approaches summer solstice. Click on the images below to see Ligeia Mare’s and Mackay Lacus’ location on Titan’s north polar region.

Ligeia Mare Credit: NASA / JPL / USGS / edited by Val Klavans
Ligeia Mare, imaged by Cassini’s RADAR instrument
NASA / JPL / USGS / edited by Val Klavans
Mackay Lacus
Mackay Lacus, imaged by Cassini’s RADAR instrument
NASA / JPL / USGS / edited by Val Klavans

VIMS will also image across Titan’s northern mid-latitudes, Adiri, and Ching-Tu, covering a series of faculae (bright regions within Titan’s dune fields). One of Titan’s 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!

"Belet Below the Haze" Credit: NASA / JPL / SSI / edited by Val Klavans
“Belet Below the Haze,” imaged by Cassini’s ISS instrument
NASA / JPL / SSI / edited by Val Klavans

Cassini’s Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) instrument will also be checking in on Titan during this flyby. CIRS will stare at Titan in order to acquire mid-infrared spectral and temperature information about Titan’s atmosphere.

Images

Since the images are in, let’s take a look!

On the left is a true color image of Titan. The circular region is Titan’s north polar hood, a cap centered on the north pole made of dense gaseous hydrocarbon haze. The hood has been changing its appearance with Titan’s change in seasons. Read more about that here. The image on the right is a representation of what it would look like if you could see past Titan’s atmosphere and down to its surface. The dark areas are Titan’s lakes and seas! (Both views of Titan were captured by Cassini’s ISS.)

Staring down on Titan's north pole NASA / JPL / SSI / composite and editing by Val Klavans
Staring down on Titan’s north pole
NASA / JPL / SSI / composite and editing by Val Klavans

Cassini’s ISS also captured some great views of Titan’s colorful layers of haze. Below is an approximate true color image of Titan’s haze layers. 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.

Titan's colorful haze layers NASA / JPL / SSI / composite by Val Klavans
Titan’s colorful haze layers
NASA / JPL / SSI / composite by Val Klavans

Looking for the up-close images of Titan’s lakes and seas? Well, look no further!

Here is a mosaic of three raw images Cassini’s ISS snapped during the flyby. Notice Titan’s second and third largest seas, Ligeia Mare and Punga Mare, as well as a number of lakes. Click on the image below for more details.

Titan's northern wetlands NASA / JPL / SSI / Ian Regan
Titan’s northern wetlands
NASA / JPL / SSI / Ian Regan

Below is an up-close image of a few of Titan’s lakes and seas from the ISS. Titan’s largest and third largest seas (Kraken Mare and Punga Mare, respectively) are visible, as well as a few of Titan’s lakes. The ISS captured this view in the infrared to peer through Titan’s thick atmosphere to image its surface.

A collection of Titan's northern lakes and seas NASA / JPL / SSI / edited by Val Klavans
A collection of Titan’s northern lakes and seas
NASA / JPL / SSI / edited by Val Klavans

Below is an even closer view of a section of Kraken Mare.

Up-close view of Kraken Mare NASA / JPL / SSI / edited by Val Klavans
Up-close view of Kraken Mare
NASA / JPL / SSI / edited by Val Klavans

Check out more images from the flyby right on my Facebook event page.

Sources

Want to know even more about this flyby? Check out Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations’ (CICLOPS) website with information on Cassini’s activities every day: Rev197: Aug 29 – Sep 27 ’13 and a quick overview of this flyby from Cassini’s main website: Titan Flyby (T-94): A Fresh Look at Northern Lakes. (All of my information from this post, unless otherwise specified, comes from these sources.)

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