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.

Cassini Spies Pandora Hovering Over Titan

What will we find when we open it up to look inside?

In this Cassini image taken on July 2, 2015 little moon Pandora appears to hover behind bigger brother Titan, but is actually almost three times closer at 436,000 miles (698,000 kilometers). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
In this Cassini image taken on July 2, 2015 little moon Pandora appears to hover behind bigger brother Titan, but is actually almost three times closer at 436,000 miles (698,000 kilometers). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Space news ( October 30, 2015) –

First viewed during an examination of Voyager 1 images of Saturn taken in 1980, Titan’s little moon Pandora is only 50 miles (81 kilometers) across in this green light image taken at a distance of about 1.2 million miles (1.9 million kilometers). 

Pandora has lots of craters, indicating she’s still growing in size, and her final size and shape has yet to be determined. Very irregularly shaped presently, Pandora’s craters are covered with space debris from recent collisions on geological time scales. One day, if she collects enough debris, planetary scientist think Pandora could start to look more spherical in shape. 

Detail of Voyager 2 image showing Saturn's moon Pandora, taken 6 hours before Voyager's closest approach to Saturn. Pandora is irregularly shaped, 110 x 90 x 60 km, and bright, with visible albedo of 0.9. The satellite orbits with a semi-major axis of 142,000 km and acts as the outer shepherding satellite (Prometheus is the inner) of Saturn's F-ring. North is approximately up and Pandora is about 70 km across in the image. (Voyager 2, FDS 43998.15) Image credit NASA
Detail of Voyager 2 image showing Saturn’s moon Pandora, taken 6 hours before Voyager’s closest approach to Saturn. Pandora is irregularly shaped, 110 x 90 x 60 km, and bright, with visible albedo of 0.9. The satellite orbits with a semi-major axis of 142,000 km and acts as the outer shepherding satellite (Prometheus is the inner) of Saturn’s F-ring. North is approximately up and Pandora is about 70 km across in the image. (Voyager 2, FDS 43998.15)
Image credit NASA

The fourth of Saturn’s known moons, Pandora orbits at a distance of about 141,700 km from her parent planet, and is the outer shepherd moon of the F ring. Planetary scientists think its elongated shape and low density could mean it was formed when the gravity of a dense core gathered nearby ring particles onto itself. 

Mimas and Pandora both orbit Saturn, but planetary scientists believe they formed using different processes. In this Cassini image taken on July 26, 2015, Mimas is 904,000 miles (1.4 million kilometers) from the spacecraft and Pandora is 485,000 miles (781,000 kilometers). Image credit NASA
Mimas and Pandora both orbit Saturn, but planetary scientists believe they formed using different processes. In this Cassini image taken on July 26, 2015, Mimas is 904,000 miles (1.4 million kilometers) from the spacecraft and Pandora is 485,000 miles (781,000 kilometers). Image credit NASA

Named after the woman bestowed upon mankind by Zeus as a punishment for using Prometheus’ gift of fire, Titan’s little moon Pandora probably doesn’t contain all the ills plaguing humankind. Teams of scientists proposing to government space agencies or private concerns a mission to open it up and take a look inside might get a few laughs.

After all, all myths have a beginning somewhere in time, and nothing is impossible, in this universe, if you wait long enough for it to happen. 

It wouldn’t be a surprise if one day we drifted by and took a better look. 

Just in case someone or something left us a gift!

You can learn more about Pandora here.

Discover NASA’s mandate to travel to the stars here.

Learn about the things Cassini discovered about Saturn and its moons here.

Read about Voyager 1 here.

Read about planetary scientists announcement they have proof positive of an ocean of liquid water beneath the icy shell of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Learn more about Active Galactic Nuclei and relativistic jets erupting from them.

Learn about planets astronomers have found in star systems containing four suns.

Cassini Spies Bright Features in Kraken Mare Possibly Related to “Magic Island” Observed in Ligeia Mare

Space scientists think could be floating debris or waves on the seas of Saturn’s moon Titan 

Cassini radar data reveal the depth of a liquid methane/ethane sea on Saturn's moon Titan near the mouth of a large, flooded river valley. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell
Cassini radar data reveal the depth of a liquid methane/ethane sea on Saturn’s moon Titan near the mouth of a large, flooded river valley. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

Space news (November 18, 2014) – Sailing over Titan’s moons – 

Cassini sailed over Saturn’s moon Titan on August 21, 2014, to take a first look at the depths near the opening of a huge river valley along the eastern shore of Titan’s largest sea Kraken Mare. NASA space scientists collected data along a 120-mile shore-to-shore track of the hydrocarbon sea. One part of this track collected altimetry data along a 25-mile section indicating sea depths in this region of 66 to 115 feet (20 – 35 meters). This involves Cassini’s radar bouncing a beam off the bottom of Kraken Mare to determine an estimate of the depth in the region.

During this 25-mile section of the 120-mile track across Kraken Mare Cassini’s radar and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) detected bright features in the sea space scientists think could be similar to another bright, mystery feature previously observed in another of Titan’s seas, Ligeia Mare, researchers have called “Magic Island”. Detecting the features using both instruments gives scientists a better look and idea of the identity of these enigmatic features.

Space scientists at this time think these unknown features observed by Cassini’s instruments could be waves, floating debris or something else entirely. Unfortunately, it may be awhile before we know anything more about the bright features observed in Kraken Mare since this is the last chance for the spacecraft to observed the region.

Cassini will fly by Titan once again in January 2015, to take a closer look at the original feature spied in Ligeia Mare. At this time they’ll also attempt to measure the sea depth of Punga Mare, the only large sea in Titan’s far north Cassini hasn’t observed.

You can find more information on Cassini and its mission to observe the seas of Saturn’s moon Titan here.

For more information on NASA and its space mission go here.

Read about how astronauts in space monitor their body weight

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Read about the search for extraterrestrial moons

Cassini Spacecraft Shows Us Views of the Solar System in Natural Color

Cassini Spacecraft blasts off on its mission to Saturn
Cassini Orbiter blasts off on its mission to Saturn

NASA spacecraft shows us the solar system as it would be seen by human eyes

A breakdown of the onboard instrumentation of the Cassini Orbiter
A breakdown of the onboard instrumentation of the Cassini Orbiter

Astronomy news (2013/12/19) – NASA revealed to the world an image of stunning Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft at the Newseum in Washington on Tuesday showing the giant planet as our eyes would view it.

The spectacular image, seen below, is a panoramic composed of 141 wide-angle images, showing us a view 404,880 miles (651,591 kilometers) across of Earth, Venus, Mars, and Saturn and its moons and inner ring system. The image includes all of Saturn’s rings, including the E ring, which is the second ring from the outer edge of the planet’s rings (the distance between the Earth and the Moon would easily fit within the width of the E ring). “In this one magnificent view, Cassini has delivered to us a universe of marvels,” said Carolyn Porco, Cassini’s imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. “And it did so on a day people all over the world, in unison, smiled in celebration at the sheer joy of being alive on a pale blue dot.”

A real color image taken of Saturn, with Earth, Mars, Venus and a few moons visible
A real color image of Saturn, with Earth, Mars, Venus and a few moons visible

Join the Wave at Saturn Campaign

This spectacular image of Saturn and its moons and rings is part of NASA’s “Wave at Saturn” campaign, which invited people around the United States and the world to take part in a celebration and party on July 19. NASA asked people to take the time to find Saturn in the sky in their part of the world. To say hello to Cassini and the ringed planet by waving across the solar system and loading any pictures they take onto the Internet to be shared with the world. A fun and social way to join the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

The image above shows Earth as the bright blue dot located to the lower right of Saturn. Venus isn’t easily seen in this image and is the bright dot located to the upper left of the giant planet, while Mars is the faint red dot to the left and above Venus. Viewers with good eyes should be able to view seven of Saturn’s moons in the image, including amazing Enceladus just to the left. Take a closer look and you should see icy plumes flying out from Enceladus’s south pole region, which provides the fine, grain-sized icy dust that makes up the E ring.

Saturn’s E-Ring is Visible

Saturn’s E ring appears like a halo surrounding the planet and its inner rings, and the best view of this area is provided by light shining from behind the planet. Astronomers studying Saturn and its rings used enhanced computer programs to improve the contrast and color balance of the pictures. This allowed them to pick out detailed data and evidence which made it possible to trace out the full orbits of smaller moons like Anthe and Methone, for the first time in the history of the human journey to the beginning of space and time. “This mosaic provides a remarkable amount of high-quality data on Saturn’s diffuse rings, revealing all sorts of intriguing structures we are currently trying to understand,” said Matt Hedman, a Cassini participating scientist at the University of Idaho in Moscow. “The E ring shows patterns that likely reflect disturbances from such diverse sources as sunlight and Enceladus’ gravity.”

The astronomers in charge of Cassini usually don’t try to use the instrument to image Earth very often because an unobstructed view of the sun will damage sensitive equipment on the spacecraft. Astronomers had to wait until the sun was hidden behind Saturn, in relation to Cassini, which occurred on July 19, before taking images of Earth and its moon, and the backlit panoramic picture above. “With a long, intricate dance around the Saturn system, Cassini aims to study the Saturn system from as many angles as possible,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Beyond showing us the beauty of the Ringed Planet, data like these also improve our understanding of the history of the faint rings around Saturn and the way disks around planets form — clues to how our own solar system formed around the sun.”

Cassini has been exploring Saturn and its local region for nine years to date, and NASA has indicated the spacecraft will continue its mission until at least 2017. We will bring you more images of Saturn and data concerning the planet as long as the human journey to Saturn continues.

To view the image, visit: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA17172.

A new version of the collage of photos shared by the public, with the Saturn system as the backdrop, is available at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA17679.

More information about Cassini is available at http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.

Watch this YouTube video on Cassini and mission results here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5zcrEze8L4.

Watch this YouTube video on the picture Cassini took of the Earth and Moon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-PlmiKs6Mk.

Read about NASA’s Messenger spacecraft and its mission to Mercury

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