Are you ready for Cassini’s last 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-96) Flyby.
- Name Titan (T-96) Flyby
- Date December 1, 2013 [SCET]
- Time 12:41 AM UTC
- Altitude 870 miles (1,400 kilometers)
- Speed 13,000 mph (5.8 km/sec)
- Goal To get a fresh look at Titan’s northern lakes and seas
What will we be able to see? What science will be coming out of this flyby?
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 hemisphere. Imaging of Titan’s northern hemisphere will provide more information on the location and appearance of lakes in the north polar region and fill in the largest gap in ISS’ map of Titan. In addition, this imaging will be used to search for small clouds that might be in the area during the flyby.
ISS’ imaging will include Mackay Lacus, one of Titan’s smaller bodies of liquid located near the moon’s north pole. (Click on the image below to see Mackay Lacus’ location.)
On November 29, 2013, the ISS captured this view of Titan’s northern lakes and seas using one of its infrared filters:
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 also be imaging Titan’s northern seas and lakes. It will be mapping the distribution of filled and empty lakes (coated with evaporites). VIMS will also be imaging across Shangri-La, Xanadu, and Tui Regio in high-resolution.
VIMS captured this view of Titan’s northern wetlands during Cassini’s T94 Flyby. (Click on the image to see labeled features.)
The Titan surface map below should give you an idea where Shangri-La, Xanadu, and Tui Regio are located.
VIMS will also be observing Titan’s southern hemisphere to search for clouds and will stare at 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.)
And that’s not all! VIMS will also look for specular reflection in an area located to the east of Ara Fluctus, between latitudes 53 N and 48 N and between longitudes 130 W – 163 W. (See Ara Fluctus’ location on Titan here.) Specular reflection is the mirror-like reflection of light from a surface, in this case, a mirror-like reflection of light from one of Titan’s bodies of liquid hydrocarbons.
Below is an example of specular reflection that came from Titan’s north polar lake, named Jingpo Lacus. It is roughly 240 km (150 mi) and was named after the Chinese lake on Earth, Lake Jingpo (“Mirror lake”). This glint was detected by VIMS on July 8, 2009 and it confirmed the presence of liquid in Titan’s northern hemisphere.
Cassini’s Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) instrument will also be checking in on Titan during this flyby. CIRS will make observations on the structure, temperature and composition of Titan’s upper haze layers. In addition, CIRS will study Titan’s now-cooling south polar vortex. (The Sun is setting over Titan’s south pole.)
Now that all the images are in, let’s take a look!
Below is a true color view of Titan’s haze layers, taken by Cassini’s ISS during the flyby. 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. (Click on the image for more information.)
ISS also captured views of Titan’s crescent. Below is another true color view of the hazy moon. Can you spot Titan’s south polar vortex?
The best part about this flyby were probably ISS’ views of Titan’s north polar lakes and seas. Below is a labelled mosaic showing Titan’s three largest seas (Kraken Mare, Ligeia Mare and Punga Mare), a multitude of lakes, and even an island (Mayda Insula, an island within Kraken Mare).
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: Rev199: Nov 7 – Dec 17 ’13 and a quick overview of this flyby from Cassini’s main website: Titan Flyby (T-96): Peering at the North. ( (All of my information from this post, unless otherwise specified, comes from these sources.)