Cassini Views Hydrocarbon Dunes of Titan in Near-infrared 938 Nanometers

Looking for changes in features of hydrocarbon sands in order to better understand winds and dunes of Titan

The shadowy region seen here is one of the most interesting parts discovered on Titan. In this H-shaped region planetary scientists detect the Dunelands of Titan.
The shadowy region seen here is one of the most interesting parts discovered on Titan. In this H-shaped region planetary scientists detect the Dunelands of Titan. Image credit: NASA

Space news (Planetary science: the moons of Saturn; Titan)

At first glance of news, it might seem Saturn’s frozen moon Titan is similar to Earth in many ways, but the atmospheric phenomenon and surfaces detected aren’t anything like those on Earth. The clouds of this distant moon drop ethane and methane rain into lakes covering large regions. The solid surface of Titan is made primarily of solid water and its vast dune fields are composed of hydrocarbon sands. 

The dark shadowy region in the Cassini image of Titan above hosts two large regions where planetary scientists detect hydrocarbon sand dunes called Aztlan (in the south, down direction) and Fensal (in the north, down direction). Planetary scientists study surface features looking for changes over time, which they use to better understand the atmospheric phenomenon.

The view above was taken at a distance of about 450,000 miles (730,000 kilometers), by Cassini’s narrow-angle camera on July 25, 2015, using a spectral filter sensitive to near-infrared light with a wavelength of 938 nanometers.

The mosaic below is composed of Cassini images taken on September 07, 2015, of the hemisphere of Titan containing the dune-filled regions Aztlan and Fensal. Planetary scientists detect small islands from 3 to 25 (5 to 40 kilometers) in size sprinkled around these regions, they believe are mainly water ice along the top, with a dark particulate material deposited by the atmosphere in the surrounding lower areas.

This mosaic of images of the same H-shaped region on Titan shows additional details on these surface features. Image credit: NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
This mosaic of images of the same H-shaped region on Titan shows additional details on these surface features. Image credit: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The larger island to the near right, called Bazaruto Facula, contains a dark crater, while several islands in Western Fensal above can be seen here. Images of a region called Shangri-La located on the opposite side of Titan, show similar island-features which appear in clusters with an east-west orientation along their long axis.

Aztlan to the south in this image appears to have far fewer small island features. Planetary scientists do detect three large islands in the western reaches of this region and a few smaller islands. The largest of the islands just right of center in the bottom left frame is 149 to 75 miles (240 by 120 kilometers) across and has been given the name of Sotra Facula.

Discover everything Cassini has discovered about Titan here.

Learn more about the mission of Cassini here.

Embrace the space mission of NASA here.

Learn about the discoveries Cassini has made about Saturn here.

Read about the Monster of the Milky Way recently coming to spectacular life.

Learn and read about a recent link astronomers have found between galaxy mergers and active galactic nuclei.

Learn about the discoveries made by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft concerning Pluto and its moons.

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