Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Calm lakes on Titan could mean smooth landing for future space probes

06.07.2017

The lakes of liquid methane on Saturn's moon, Titan, are perfect for paddling but not for surfing. New research led by The University of Texas at Austin has found that most waves on Titan's lakes reach only about 1 centimeter high, a finding that indicates a serene environment that could be good news for future probes sent to the surface of that moon.

"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," said lead author Cyril Grima, a research associate at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG). "Our study shows that because the waves aren't very high, the winds are likely low."


Titan is Saturn's largest moon. Its cloudy appearance comes from an atmosphere mixed with gaseous nitrogen and hydrocarbons.

Credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/ Cassini Orbiter.

The research was published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters on June 29. Collaborators include researchers at Cornell University, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. UTIG is a research unit of the UT Jackson School of Geosciences.

Titan is the largest moon of Saturn and one of the locations in the solar system that is thought to possess the ingredients for life. In photos taken by the Cassini orbiter, a NASA probe, it appears as a smooth brown orb because of its thick atmosphere clouded with gaseous nitrogen and hydrocarbons.

However, radar images from the same probe show that it has a surface crust made of water ice and drenched in liquid hydrocarbons. On Titan, methane and ethane fall from the sky as rain, fill deep lakes that dot the surface, and are possibly spewed into the air by icy volcanoes called cryovolcanoes.

"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."

On top of that, it's also thought to have an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy crust.

As a graduate student at the Université Grenoble Alpes in France, and then a postdoctoral fellow at UTIG, Grima developed a technique for measuring surface roughness in minute detail from radar data. Called radar statistical reconnaissance, the technique has been used to measure the snow density and its surface roughness in Antarctica and the Arctic, and to assist the landing site selection of NASA's Mars lander InSight, which is scheduled to launch next year. Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory suggested he apply the technique to measuring Titan's waves.

The research zeroes in on the three largest lakes in Titan's northern hemisphere: Kraken Mare, Ligeia Mare and Punga Mare. Kraken Mare, the largest of the three, is estimated to be larger than the Caspian Sea. By analyzing radar data collected by Cassini during Titan's early summer season, Grima and his team found that waves across these lakes are diminutive, reaching only about 1 centimeter high and 20 centimeters long.

"Cyril's work is an independent measure of sea roughness and helps to constrain the size and nature of any wind waves," said 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."

The results call into question the early summer's classification as the beginning of the Titan's windy season, Grima said, because high winds probably would have made for larger waves.

Information on Titan's climate is essential for sending a probe safely to the surface. Although there are no formal plans for a mission, Grima says that there are plenty of concepts being developed by researchers around the world. The study indicates that if a future mission lands in early summer, there's a good chance that it is in for a smooth landing.

###

The research was funded by NASA and the California Institute of Technology Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Media Contact

Monica Kortsha
mkortsha@jsg.utexas.edu
512-471-2241

 @UTAustin

http://www.utexas.edu 

Monica Kortsha | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Atmosphere Caspian Sea Cassini NASA Propulsion Titan hydrocarbons surface roughness water ice waves

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht One-way roads for spin currents
23.05.2018 | Singapore University of Technology and Design

nachricht Tunable diamond string may hold key to quantum memory
23.05.2018 | Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

Im Focus: Dozens of binaries from Milky Way's globular clusters could be detectable by LISA

Next-generation gravitational wave detector in space will complement LIGO on Earth

The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...

Im Focus: Entangled atoms shine in unison

A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.

The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Research reveals how order first appears in liquid crystals

23.05.2018 | Life Sciences

Space-like gravity weakens biochemical signals in muscle formation

23.05.2018 | Life Sciences

NIST puts the optical microscope under the microscope to achieve atomic accuracy

23.05.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>