Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. 24/7 Space News .

Cassini Nears 100th Titan Flyby with a Look Back
by Staff Writers
Pasadena CA (JPL) Mar 09, 2014

This artist's concept shows a possible model of Titan's internal structure that incorporates data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Image courtesy A. D. Fortes/UCL/STFC.

Ten years ago, we knew Titan as a fuzzy orange ball about the size of Mercury. We knew it had a nitrogen atmosphere -- the only known world with a thick nitrogen atmosphere besides Earth. But what might lie beneath the hazy air was still just a guess.

On March 6, NASA's Cassini spacecraft will swoop down within 933 miles (1,500 kilometers) of Titan to conduct its 100th flyby of the Saturn moon. Each flyby gives us a little more knowledge of Titan and its striking similarities to our world. Even with its cold surface temperatures of minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit (94 kelvins), Titan is like early Earth in a deep freeze.

Since its 2004 arrival at Saturn, Cassini's radar instrument has identified remarkable surface features on Titan. The features include lakes and seas made of liquid methane and ethane, which are larger than North America's Great Lakes, and an extensive layer of liquid water deep beneath the surface. Organic molecules abound in Titan's atmosphere, formed from the breakup of methane by solar radiation.

A recent innovation was the discovery that radar could be used to determine the depth of a Titan sea. "It's something we didn't think we could do before," said Michael Malaska, an affiliate of the Cassini radar team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

"The radar can measure the depth by receiving two different bounces: one from the surface and one from the bottom of the sea. This technique was used to determine that Ligeia Mare, the second largest sea on Titan, is about 160 meters [525 feet] deep. When coupled with some laboratory experiments, it gives us information about the composition of the liquid in Ligeia Mare, too."

As spring turns to summer in Titan's northern hemisphere for the first time since Cassini arrived at Saturn, scientists are looking forward to entering potentially the most exciting time for Titan weather - with waves and winds picking up. With increasing sunlight, the north polar lakes and seas can now be seen in near-infrared images, enabling scientists to learn more about their composition and giving them clues about the surrounding terrain.

"Methane is not only in the atmosphere, but probably in the crust," said Jonathan Lunine, a scientist on the Cassini mission at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.

"It's a hint there are organics not only in Titan's air and on the surface, but even in the deep interior, where liquid water exists as well. Organics are the building blocks of life, and if they are in contact with liquid water, there could be a chance of finding some form of life."

Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at JPL, speculated on the type of life that could exist. "The astrobiological potential for Titan is two-fold," she said.

"Could a unique form of methane-based life exist in Titan's liquid lakes and seas? With a global ocean of liquid water beneath its icy crust, could life exist in Titan's subsurface ocean?"

Although the official Cassini mission name for this flyby is T-99, it is, in fact, the 100th targeted Titan flyby of the mission. Why the discrepancy? An extra flyby was inserted early in the mission, after the Titan flybys had been named.


Related Links
Cassini at JPL
Explore The Ring World of Saturn and her moons
Jupiter and its Moons
The million outer planets of a star called Sol
News Flash at Mercury

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

The Wisps of Dione
Pasadena CA (JPL) Feb 20, 2014
Although the crack-like features seen here on Dione's surface appear wispy and faded, they are in reality a series of geologically fresh fractures! Lit terrain seen here is on the trailing hemisphere of Dione. North on Dione (698 miles, or 1,123 kilometers across) is up and rotated 29 degrees to the left. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera ... read more

Control circuit malfunction troubles China's Yutu

China's Lunar Lander Still Operational

China Focus: Uneasy rest begins for China's troubled Yutu rover

Is Yutu Stuck?

Robotic Arm Crushes Rock for Study

Relay Radio on Mars-Bound NASA Craft Passes Checkout

Mars Rover Oppportunity Crushing Rocks With Wheels

NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover Views Striated Ground

Committee Democrats Emphasize Need for Human Space Exploration Roadmap

NASA Commercial Crew Partners Complete Space System Milestones

Bright pulses of light could make space veggies more nutritious

Last Shuttle Commander Virtually Flies Boeing CST-100 to ISS

China expects to launch cargo ship into space around 2016

China capable of exploring Mars

Feature: The "masters" behind China's lunar rover Jade Rabbit

Preparation for Chang'e-5 launch on schedule

NASA says US-Russia space ties 'normal'

Cancer Targeted Treatments from Space Station Discoveries

Cosmonauts on space station to turn teacher for Russian students

Space suit leak happened before, NASA admits

Payload prep continues for Arianespace Soyuz for Sentinel-1A

Russia to Start Building New Manned Rocket Launch Pad in 2015

New Vostochny space center a key priority for Russian Far East

'Mission of Firsts' Showcased New Range-Safety Technology at NASA Wallops

What Would A Rocky Exoplanet Look Like? Atmosphere Models Seek Clues

'Dimer molecules' aid study of exoplanet pressure, hunt for life

Super-Earth' may be dead worlds

Kepler Mission Announces a Planet Bonanza, 715 New Worlds

Ecliptic RocketCam Captures Sirius Antenna Deployment In Geo Orbit

Ultra-fast laser spectroscopy lights way to understanding new materials

Aerojet Rocketdyne Provides Propulsion For GPM Satellite

Waterloo physicists solve 20-year-old debate surrounding glassy surfaces

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement All images and articles appearing on Space Media Network have been edited or digitally altered in some way. Any requests to remove copyright material will be acted upon in a timely and appropriate manner. Any attempt to extort money from Space Media Network will be ignored and reported to Australian Law Enforcement Agencies as a potential case of financial fraud involving the use of a telephonic carriage device or postal service.