Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Massive Mountain Range seen on Saturn’s Moon Titan UK comment

14.12.2006
The tallest mountains ever seen on Titan - the largest moon of Saturn - coated with layers of organic material and blanketed by clouds, have been imaged by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. The latest results from the mission were announced at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

“We see a massive mountain range that kind of reminds me of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the western United States. This mountain range is continuous and is nearly 100 miles long,” said Dr. Bob Brown, team leader of the Cassini visual and infrared mapping spectrometer at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

During an October 25th flyby designed to obtain the highest resolution infrared views of Titan yet, Cassini resolved surface features as small as 400 meters (1,300 feet). The images reveal a large mountain range, dunes, and a deposit of material that resembles a volcanic flow. These data, together with radar data from previous flybys, provide new information on the height and composition of geologic features on Titan.

UK Cassini scientist Professor Michele Dougherty from Imperial College London, said, “What I found most exciting about the infrared observations was the discoveries they revealed on such different scales, from the largest mountain range (nearly 100 miles in length) yet seen on the surface of Titan down to detailed resolution of sand dunes and a volcanic lava flow.”

If Titan were Earth, these mountains would lie south of the equator, somewhere in New Zealand. The range is about 150 kilometers long (93 miles) and 30 kilometers (19 miles) wide and about 1.5 kilometers (nearly a mile) high. Deposits of bright, white material, which may be methane “snow” or exposures of some other organic material, lie at the top of the mountain ridges.

“These mountains are probably as hard as rock, made of icy materials, and are coated with different layers of organics,” said Dr. Larry Soderblom, Cassini interdisciplinary scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, Ariz.

He added, “There seem to be layers and layers of various coats of organic ‘paint’ on top of each other on these mountain tops, almost like a painter laying the background on a canvas. Some of this organic gunk falls out of the atmosphere as rain, dust, or smog onto the valley floors and mountain tops, which are coated with dark spots that appear to be brushed, washed, scoured and moved around the surface.”

The mountains probably formed when material welled up from below to fill the gaps opened when tectonic plates pull apart, similar to the way mid-ocean ridges are formed on Earth.

Separately, the radar and infrared data are difficult to interpret, but together they are a powerful combination. In the infrared images, one can see the shadows of the mountains, and in radar, one can see their shape. But when combined, scientists begin to see variations on the mountains, which is essential to unraveling the mysteries of the geologic processes on Titan.

Professor Dougherty adds, “These discoveries show the strength of interdisciplinary science whereby combining data from different instruments onboard Cassini allows us to obtain the best understanding possible of the complex features on this enigmatic moon.”

A fan-shaped feature, possibly a remnant of a volcanic flow, is also visible in the infrared images. The radar instrument imaged this flow and a circular feature from which the flow seems to emanate on a previous flyby, but not in this level of detail.

“The evidence is mounting that this circular feature is a volcano,” said Dr. Rosaly Lopes, Cassini radar team member at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “With radar data alone, we identified it as a possible volcano, but the combination of radar and infrared makes it much clearer.”

Near the wrinkled, mountainous terrain are clouds in Titan’s southern mid latitudes whose source continues to elude scientists. These clouds are probably methane droplets that may form when the atmosphere on Titan cools as it is pushed over the mountains by winds.

The composition of dunes that run across much of Titan is also much clearer. “The dunes seem to consist of sand grains made of organics, built on water-ice bedrock, and there may also be some snow and bright deposits,” Brown said.

Commenting on these new results Professor John Zarnecki from the Open University, Lead Scientist for the Surface Science Package on the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe which descended onto surface of Titan in January 2005, said, "Titan continues to amaze us. It is incredible to think that all those kilometres away there is a moon which contains so many similar geographical features to those found here on Earth. Huygens gave us a panoramic snapshot of the surface of Titan which we continue to anaylse. When coupled with the results from Cassini's flyby's of Titan we are really beginning to build up a detailed picture of the make up of this intriguing moon."

Titan is a complex place and scientists are uncovering the secrets of the surface, one flyby at a time. Scientists hope to get more clues from the next Titan flyby, on December 12th.

For the new infrared images of the mountains visit: http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://wwwvims.lpl.arizona.edu .

Gill Ormrod | alfa
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov/cassini
http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov
http://wwwvims.lpl.arizona.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL
23.06.2017 | Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

nachricht Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?
23.06.2017 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

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: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>