Titan’s Puzzle Pieces

Titan’s Puzzle Pieces

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Cassini’s close view of Titan from flyby
Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Although the Huygens probe has now pierced the murky skies of Titan and landed on its surface, much of the moon remains for the Cassini spacecraft to explore. Titan continues to present exciting puzzles. This view of Titan uncovers new territory not previously seen at this resolution by Cassini’s cameras.

The view is a composite of four nearly identical wide-angle camera images, all taken using a filter sensitive to wavelengths of infrared light centered at 939 nanometers. The individual images have been combined and contrast-enhanced in such a way as to sharpen surface features and enhance overall brightness variations.

Some of the territory in this view was covered by observations made by the Cassini synthetic aperture radar in October 2004 and February 2005. At large scales, there are similarities between the views taken by the imaging science subsystem cameras and the radar results, but there also are differences.

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Icy pebbles on Titan. Click image for larger view. Credit: ESA

For example, the center of the floor of the approximately 80-kilometer-wide (50-mile) crater identified by the radar team in February is relatively bright at 2.2 centimeters, the wavelength of the radar experiment, but dark in the near-infrared wavelengths used here by Cassini’s optical cameras. This brightness difference is also apparent for some of the surrounding material and could indicate differences in surface composition or roughness.

Such comparisons, as well as information from observations acquired by the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer at the same time as the optical camera observations, are important in trying to understand the nature of Titan’s surface materials.

The images for this composite view were taken with the Cassini spacecraft on March 31, 2005, at distances ranging from approximately 146,000 to 130,000 kilometers (91,000 to 81,000 miles) from Titan and at a Sun-Titan-spacecraft, or phase, angle of about 57 degrees. The image scale is 8 kilometers (5 miles) per pixel. Previous observations indicate that, due to Titan’s thick, hazy atmosphere, the sizes of surface features that can be resolved are a few times larger than the actual pixel scale.


Listen to sounds from the microphone onboard the Huygens during its descent (wav file format, approx. 600 kB each):

Related Web Pages

Rendezvous with Titan
Huygens, Phone Home
Saturn– JPL Cassini Main Page
Space Science Institute
Prebiotic Laboratory
Planet Wannabe
Where is Cassini Now?
Did Fluid Once Flow on Titan?