Peering Into Titan’s Atmosphere

NASA / JPL / edited by Val Klavans
NASA / JPL / Val Klavans

Are you ready for Cassini’s penultimate flyby of 2013? Feel free to follow along with the latest information and images from this Titan flyby on my Facebook event page: Titan (T-95) Flyby.

Quick Facts:

  • Name Titan (T-95) Flyby
  • Date October 14, 2013 [SCET]
  • Time 4:56 AM UTC
  • Altitude 597 miles (961 kilometers)
  • Speed 13,000 mph (5.8 km/sec)
  • Goal To better understand Titan’s atmosphere in terms of solar activity and seasonal change

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 north polar region and northern leading hemisphere.  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.

Below are two views of Titan, above and below its atmosphere, taken on October 7, 2013. In both views, ISS stares down on Titan’s north polar region. Click the image for more information.

Staring down on Titan's north pole (above and below the atmosphere) NASA / JPL / SSI / Val Klavans
NASA / JPL / SSI / Val Klavans

What science will be coming out of this flyby?

Cassini’s Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) instrument will measure the composition of Titan’s upper atmosphere over the equator. This is the best opportunity in the Solstice mission to study the effects of the solar wind on Titan’s atmosphere. During this flyby, Cassini will travel through Titan’s magnetospheric interaction region, which makes this an excellent opportunity to study the effects of solar activity on the magnetospheric boundary as well as seasonal change in the atmosphere.

Cassini’s RADAR instrument will make radiometry and scatterometry scans of Titan, which will provide information about the properties of its surface including roughness and temperature. RADAR will also acquire Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imaging swaths across Titan’s northern trailing hemisphere and southern anti-Saturn hemisphere, including Ontario Lacus, Titan’s ”footprint” lake.

Below is a RADAR image of Ontario Lacus taken on January 12, 2010. Click on the image for more details on this footprint located on Titan’s south pole.

NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASI
NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASI

Cassini’s Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) instrument will also be checking in on Titan during this flyby. CIRS will make a far-infrared nadir-staring observation as well as a limb mapping observation. These observations are used to measure the temperature and minor gas abundances within Titan’s atmosphere. CIRS will also observe Titan’s southern hemisphere in order to study changes in its atmosphere as that region approaches winter.


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

Here is a true color image of Titan. Cassini’s ISS snapped this view staring towards Titan’s south pole. Located right at Titan’s south pole is its south polar vortex, which is not visible in this view because sunlight is continuing to fade over this region.

Staring towards Titan's south pole NASA / JPL / SSI / Val Klavans
Staring towards Titan’s south pole
NASA / JPL / SSI / Val Klavans

Cassini’s ISS captured some great views of Titan’s atmosphere. Below is a 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 layers of haze NASA / JPL / SSI / Val Klavans
Titan’s layers of haze
NASA / JPL / SSI / Val Klavans

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

A few of Titan's lakes and seas NASA / JPL / SSI / edited by Val Klavans
Close-up of Titan’s lakes and seas
NASA / JPL / SSI / edited by Val Klavans

Here is a mosaic of a number of raw images Cassini’s ISS snapped during the flyby. Titan’s largest seas, as well as a collection of lakes are visible in this view.

A vast collection of Titan’s northern seas and lakes NASA / JPL / SSI / Ian Regan
A vast collection of Titan’s northern seas and lakes
NASA / JPL / SSI / Ian Regan

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


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: Rev198: Sep 27 – Nov 7 ’13 and a quick overview of this flyby from Cassini’s main website. You have to scroll down to Oct. 14 to see the overview. Due to the government shutdown there was no other information given on this flyby. :'( (All of my information from this post, unless otherwise specified, comes from these sources.)


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