Titan is a mysterious, strange place for human eyes. It’s a frigid world, with seas of liquid hydrocarbons, and a structure made up of layers of water, different kinds of ice, and a core of hydrous silicates. It may even have cryovolcanoes. Adding to the odd nature of Saturn’s largest moon is the presence of exotic crystals on the shores of its hydrocarbon lakes.
Even though the Cassini orbiter ended its mission on of September 15th, 2017, the data it gathered on Saturn and its largest moon, Titan, continues to astound and amaze. During the thirteen years that it spent orbiting Saturn and conducting flybys of its moons, the probe gathered a wealth of data on Titan’s atmosphere, surface, methane lakes, and rich organic environment that scientists continue to pore over.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured this view of bands of bright, feathery methane clouds drifting across Saturn's moon Titan on May 7, 2017. The view was obtained during a distant (non-targeted) flyby, during which Cassini passed 303,000 miles (488,000 kilometers) above the moon's surface. Although Cassini will have no further close, targeted flybys of Titan, the spacecraft continues to observe the giant moon and its atmosphere from a distance.
Twelve years ago today, the Huygens probe landed on Titan, marking the farthest point from Earth any spacecraft has ever landed. While a twelfth anniversary may be an odd number to mark with a special article, as we said in our previous article (with footage from the landing), this is the last opportunity to celebrate the success of Huygens before its partner spacecraft Cassini ends its mission on September 15, 2017 with a fateful plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere.
Hopes of another successful landing on Mars were dashed last week when the Schiaparelli probe went missing in action during its descent onto the Red Planet.
Pictures released over the weekend from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter appear to show a parachute and a disturbed area of the Martian landscape. Early investigations suggest that the lander’s parachute opened earlier than planned, and caused the lander to plummet to the surface from as high as 4km, possibly exploding on impact.
Ever since the Cassini probe arrived at Saturn in 2004, it has revealed some startling things about the planet’s system of moons. Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, has been a particular source of fascination. Between its methane lakes, hydrocarbon-rich atmosphere, and the presence of a “methane cycle” (similar to Earth’s “water cycle”), their is no shortage of fascinating things happening on this Cronian moon
Each of these two montages shows four synthetic views of Titan created using data acquired by the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) on board NASA's Cassini spacecraft between 2004 and 2015. These views demonstrate some of the progress researchers have made in creating smooth-looking maps of Titan from the multitude of different VIMS observations made under a wide variety of lighting and viewing conditions.