by Brooks Hays
Washington (UPI) Jul 5, 2017
New research suggests the lakes on Saturn's moon Titan are especially calm. Satellite data studied and analyzed by researchers at the University of Texas revealed waves no taller than a single centimeter.
The findings -- detailed in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters -- present Titan as an ideal place for future probe landings.
"There's a lot of interest in one day sending probes to the lakes, and when that's done, you want to have a safe landing, and you don't want a lot of wind," lead study author Cyril Grima, a research associate at UT's Institute for Geophysics, said in a news release. "Our study shows that because the waves aren't very high, the winds are likely low."
Though no mission is currently scheduled, NASA is considering a number of proposals for future trips to Titan. To ensure the safest possible landing for future Titan-bound probes, scientists need to know when and where winds and seas will be calmest.
Titan is shrouded by a thick atmosphere of gaseous nitrogen and hydrocarbons. According to radar images, a surface of water ice and hydrocarbons lies beneath the thick atmosphere. The moon also hosts cryovolcanoes that spew methane and ethane in the atmosphere. The gases fall as rain, forming lakes in the moon's crater. In addition to lakes, scientists believe Titan also hosts a vast subsurface ocean beneath its icy crust.
According to astronomers, Titan's unique combination of atmospheric, climatic and geologic systems yield many of the building blocks for life.
"The atmosphere of Titan is very complex, and it does synthesize complex organic molecules -- the bricks of life," Grima said. "It may act as a laboratory of sorts, where you can see how basic molecules can be transformed into more complex molecules that could eventually lead to life."
To measure the height of waves on Titan's lakes, researchers used a method called radar statistical reconnaissance. The technique is used to measure the density and surface roughness of snow in Antarctica and the Arctic.
"Cyril's work is an independent measure of sea roughness and helps to constrain the size and nature of any wind waves," said study co-author Alex Hayes, an assistant professor of astronomy at Cornell University. "From the results, it looks like we are right near the threshold for wave generation, where patches of the sea are smooth and patches are rough."
Some scientists have previously suggest early summer marks the beginning of the moon's windy season, but the latest analysis of surface roughness on Titan's biggest lakes suggests early summer is actually rather serene.
Pasadena CA (JPL) May 26, 2017
NASA's Cassini spacecraft still has a few months to go before it completes its mission in September, but the veteran Saturn explorer reaches a new milestone today. Saturn's solstice - that is, the longest day of summer in the northern hemisphere and the shortest day of winter in the southern hemisphere - arrives today for the planet and its moons. The Saturnian solstice occurs about every 15 Ear ... read more
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