On the left is a true color image of Titan. The moon’s south polar vortex and north polar hood are visible in this view. 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 darker areas are vast hydrocarbon sand dunes.
Both images were taken by Cassini’s camera system, the Imaging Science Subsystem on April 13, 2013, as it was observing Titan’s sub-Saturn hemisphere and looking for clouds in its atmosphere.
These images were taken on April 13, 2013 and received on Earth April 14, 2013. The camera was pointing toward TITAN at approximately 1,117,489 miles (1,798,425 kilometers) away, and the images were taken using the BL1, GRN, RED, CB3, CL1 and CL2 filters.
Credit: NASA / JPL / SSI / composite & editing by Val Klavans
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured a crisp image of a long river cutting across Saturn’s huge moon Titan.
Image: A river near the north pole of Saturn’s moon Titan, imaged by the Cassini spacecraft on Sept. 26, 2012. The river valley stretches more than 250 miles from its ‘headwaters’ to a large sea and likely contains hydrocarbons. Credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/ASI
The hydrocarbon-filled river stretches more than 250 miles (400 kilometers) from its source to a large sea near frigid Titan’s north pole. Cassini’s radar image is the first high-resolution shot ever taken of such a vast river system on a world beyond Earth, researchers said, and scientists are comparing it to Earth’s Nile River in Egypt.
“Though there are some short, local meanders, the relative straightness of the river valley suggests it follows the trace of at least one fault, similar to other large rivers running into the southern margin of this same Titan sea,” Jani Radebaugh, a Cassini radar team associate at Brigham Young University, said in a statement.
Featuring the smaller, cloudless Dione seen on December 10, 2011 by the Cassini spacecraft. (NASA/JPL/SSI/J. Major)
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft looks toward the night side of Saturn’s largest moon and sees sunlight scattering through the periphery of Titan’s atmosphere and forming a ring of color.
A New Angle on Titan
Here’s a great shot of Titan and Saturn acquired by Cassini on May 6, 2012 just after a pass by the haze-covered moon. It’s a color-composite made from images taken in Cassini’s red, green and blue color channels, and the resulting image was color adjusted a bit to appear more “Saturny”.
Cassini also made some closer passes of Titan on May 6, taking images within about 710,000 km. After recent passes of Encealdus and Dione, Cassini buzzed past Titan in preparation of a targeted flyby on May 22, after which it will head up and out out of the “moonplane” in order to get a better view of Saturn’s rings and upper latitudes.
After that, Cassini won’t be playing amongst the moons again for three years, so images like this will be a rarity for a while.
Another image of Titan, closer-in and set against Saturn’s rings and clouds, shows the fine, transparent structure of the moon’s upper atmospheric haze layers:
Created by the breakdown of methane in Titan’s opaque atmosphere by UV radiation, the haze is composed of complex hydrocarbons that extend outwards up to ten times the thickness of Earth’s atmosphere!
(The RGB layers weren’t available for this particular view, so there’s no color version of it.)
Titan (or Saturn VI) is the largest moon of Saturn. It is the only natural satellite known to have a fully developed dense atmosphere, and the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found. The atmospheric composition in the stratosphere is 98.4% nitrogen—the only dense, nitrogen-rich atmosphere in the Solar System aside from the Earth’s—with the remaining 1.6% composed of mostly of methane (1.4%) and hydrogen (0.1–0.2%).
Above: True-color image of layers of haze in Titan’s atmosphere.
Below: A graph detailing temperature, pressure, and other aspects of Titan’s climate. The atmospheric haze lowers the temperature in the lower atmosphere, while methane raises the temperature at the surface. Cryovolcanoes erupt methane into the atmosphere, which then rains down onto the surface, forming lakes.
Saturn’s two largest moons, captured in tandem
Saturn has 62 known moons. Pictured here are the biggest of the lot, arranged as two crescents, one sitting atop the other.
The one you’ve probably heard of before is Titan [click here for hi-res]. Within our solar system, the massive orb is second only to Jupiter’s Ganymede in size. It’s also the only moon with a dense, fully developed atmosphere, the haze of which is clearly visible here, even from a photographed distance of 1.2-million miles.
Much less substantial is the “atmosphere” of Rhea, shown here looming 400,000 miles closer than its sibling. But Rhea will surprise you. In 2010, measurements made by NASA’s Cassini orbiter (the same spacecraft that took this photograph), revealed what researchers described as a tenuous, oxygen/carbon dioxide atmosphere. Rhea is made up mostly of water ice; when this ice is irradiated by charged particles from Saturn, it decomposes into hydrogen and oxygen. But don’t plan on popping the hatch on your spacecraft next time you find yourself marooned there — Rhea’s atmosphere may be 70% O2, but it’s still trillions of times less abundant than what you’ll find here on Earth.
Like the researchers said: when it comes to wimpy atmospheres like Rhea’s, the key word is tenuous.
Cassini Delivers Holiday Treats from Saturn
22 December 2011
No team of reindeer was necessary for these holiday treats from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. A beam of radio signals, from clear across the solar system, has delivered a Christmas package of glorious images of Saturn’s largest, most colorful ornament, Titan, and other icy baubles in orbit around this splendid planet. These treats are being featured today in a public release from the mission’s imaging team.
Imaged Above In Order From Left to Right, Up, Down:
Titan and Dione — Saturn’s third-largest moon, Dione, can be seen through the haze of the planet’s largest moon, Titan, in this view of the two posing before the planet and its rings from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
Orange and Blue Hazes — These views from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft look toward the south polar region of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, and show a depression within the moon’s orange and blue haze layers near the south pole.
True Colors, Deceptive Sizes — Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, appears deceptively small paired here with Dione, Saturn’s third-largest moon, in this view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
Haze Before Ice — Saturn’s moon Tethys, with its stark white icy surface, peeps out from behind the larger, hazy, colorful Titan in this view of the two moons obtained by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Saturn’s rings lie between the two.
Titan Upfront — The colorful globe of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, passes in front of the planet and its rings in this true color snapshot from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
Titan’s golden, smog-like atmosphere and complex layered hazes appear to Cassini as a luminous ring around the planet-sized moon. The world beneath that haze has become slightly less mysterious under the gaze of Cassini and its Huygens probe, but many new discoveries await.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Janus Orbits By
Tiny moon Janus, seen before Saturn’s rings, with massive moon Titan beyond.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ Cassini Spacecraft
Titan is the only moon in the solar system known to have clouds and a mysterious, thick, planet-like atmosphere. In fact, Titan looks more like the Earth than any other body in the Solar System, despite the huge differences in temperature and other environmental conditions. Will lakes of methane ruling the surface, playing the exact same rule as water does here on earth. Clouds and lakes of methane.
Rain would be a magical sight on Titan, with rain drops a cm in size, falling like snow flakes.
Fascinating and beautiful.