CSIRO telescopes help rescue Titan experiment
CSIROs radio telescopes and others in Australia, China, Japan and the USA have revealed how the wind speeds on Saturns moon Titan vary with altitude-and have turned a disappointment into a triumph.
As the Huygens probe plummeted through Titans atmosphere on 14 January it transmitted a stream of data to its parent Cassini spacecraft. The ground-based radio telescopes eavesdropped on the probes signal. As the probe was buffeted by Titans winds, its radio signal was shifted in frequency. These Doppler shifts have been used to measure the wind speeds.
Another experiment to determine the Doppler shifts, the Cassini/Huygens Doppler Wind Experiment, was going to rely on data transmitted from the probe to Cassini. But the transmitted data was lost because because one of the receivers on Cassini was not properly configured. The data from the telescopes has plugged that gap.
The largest telescopes involved were the NRAO Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in the USA and CSIROs Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia. Thanks to special instruments borrowed from NASA, these telescopes were the first to directly see the probes signal.
The wind on Titan has been found to flow in the direction of Titans rotation-west to east-at nearly all altitudes. The winds are weak near the surface and increase slowly with altitude up to about 60 km. The maximum speed of about 430 km/hour was found at an altitude of 120 km. Above 60 km there are large variations in the Doppler measurements, which scientists think were caused by vertical wind shear.
The radio telescope network was coordinated by the Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe, JIVE, and NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory, JPL. JPL and JIVE also made and processed the ground-based Doppler measurements, working with the Doppler Wind Experiment team.
Rosie Schmedding | CSIRO Media
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