Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Titanic Weather Forecasting: New Detailed VLT Images of the Largest Moon in the Solar System

01.04.2004


Optimizing space missions



Titan, the largest moon of Saturn was discovered by Dutch astronomer Christian Huygens in 1655 and certainly deserves its name. With a diameter of no less than 5,150 km, it is larger than Mercury and twice as large as Pluto. It is unique in having a hazy atmosphere of nitrogen, methane and oily hydrocarbons. Although it was explored in some detail by the NASA Voyager missions, many aspects of the atmosphere and surface still remain unknown. Thus, the existence of seasonal or diurnal phenomena, the presence of clouds, the surface composition and topography are still under debate. There have even been speculations that some kind of primitive life (now possibly extinct) may be found on Titan.

Titan is the main target of the NASA/ESA Cassini/Huygens mission, launched in 1997 and scheduled to arrive at Saturn on July 1, 2004. The ESA Huygens probe is designed to enter the atmosphere of Titan, and to descend by parachute to the surface.


Ground-based observations are essential to optimize the return of this space mission, because they will complement the information gained from space and add confidence to the interpretation of the data. Hence, the advent of the adaptive optics system NAOS-CONICA (NACO)[1]in combination with ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile now offers a unique opportunity to study the resolved disc of Titan with high sensitivity and increased spatial resolution.

Adaptive Optics (AO) systems work by means of a computer-controlled deformable mirror that counteracts the image distortion induced by atmospheric turbulence. It is based on real-time optical corrections computed from image data obtained by a special camera at very high speed, many hundreds of times each second.

The southern smile

A team of French astronomers [2] have recently used the NACO state-of-the-art adaptive optics system on the fourth 8.2-m VLT unit telescope, Yepun, to map the surface of Titan by means of near-infrared images and to search for changes in the dense atmosphere.

These extraordinary images have a nominal resolution of 1/30th arcsec and show details of the order of 200 km on the surface of Titan. To provide the best possible views, the raw data from the instrument were subjected to deconvolution (image sharpening).

Images of Titan were obtained through 9 narrow-band filters, sampling near-infrared wavelengths with large variations in methane opacity. This permits sounding of different altitudes ranging from the stratosphere to the surface.

Titan harbours at 1.24 and 2.12 microns a “southern smile”, that is a north-south asymmetry, while the opposite situation is observed with filters probing higher altitudes, such as 1.64, 1.75 and 2.17 microns.

A high-contrast bright feature is observed at the South Pole and is apparently caused by a phenomenon in the atmosphere, at an altitude below 140 km or so. This feature was found to change its location on the images from one side of the south polar axis to the other during the week of observations.

Outlook

An additional series of NACO observations of Titan is foreseen later this month (April 2004). These will be a great asset in helping optimize the return of the Cassini/Huygens mission. Several of the instruments aboard the spacecraft depend on such ground-based data to better infer the properties of Titan’s surface and lower atmosphere.

Although the astronomers have yet to model and interpret the physical and geophysical phenomena now observed and to produce a full cartography of the surface, this first analysis provides a clear demonstration of the marvellous capabilities of the NACO imaging system. More examples of the exciting science possible with this facility will be found in a series of five papers published today in the European research journal Astronomy & Astrophysics (Vol. 47, L1 to L24).

More information

The results presented here are based on an article published in Astronomy & Astrophysics (A&A 417, L21-24, 2004): “VLT/NACO adaptive optics imaging of Titan” by E. Gendron et al.
Images of Saturn taken with NACO can be found in ESO PR Photo 04a/02.

Notes

1 NACO is an abbreviation of NAOS/CONICA. The NAOS adaptive optics corrector was built, under an ESO contract, by Office National d’Etudes et de Recherches Aérospatiales (ONERA), Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Grenoble (LAOG) and the LESIA and GEPI laboratories of the Observatoire de Paris in France, in collaboration with ESO. The CONICA infra-red camera was built, under an ESO contract, by the Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie (MPIA) (Heidelberg) and the Max-Planck Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik (MPE) (Garching) in Germany, in collaboration with ESO.

2 The team is composed of Eric Gendron, Athéna Coustenis, Pierre Drossart, Michel Combes, Mathieu Hirtzig, François Lacombe, Daniel Rouan, Claude Collin, and Sylvain Pau (LESIA, Observatoire de Paris, CNRS, France), Anne-Marie Lagrange, David Mouillet, Patrick Rabou (Laboratoire d’Astrophysique, Observatoire de Grenoble, France), Thierry Fusco (ONERA) and Gérard Zins (ESO).

Richard West | ESO
Further information:
http://www.eso.org/outreach/press-rel/pr-2004/phot-08-04.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Time-resolved measurement in a memory device
19.02.2020 | ETH Zurich

nachricht Studying electrons, bridging two realms of physics: connecting solids and soft matter
18.02.2020 | Tokyo University of Science

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: Freiburg researcher investigate the origins of surface texture

Most natural and artificial surfaces are rough: metals and even glasses that appear smooth to the naked eye can look like jagged mountain ranges under the microscope. There is currently no uniform theory about the origin of this roughness despite it being observed on all scales, from the atomic to the tectonic. Scientists suspect that the rough surface is formed by irreversible plastic deformation that occurs in many processes of mechanical machining of components such as milling.

Prof. Dr. Lars Pastewka from the Simulation group at the Department of Microsystems Engineering at the University of Freiburg and his team have simulated such...

Im Focus: Skyrmions like it hot: Spin structures are controllable even at high temperatures

Investigation of the temperature dependence of the skyrmion Hall effect reveals further insights into possible new data storage devices

The joint research project of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that had previously demonstrated...

Im Focus: Making the internet more energy efficient through systemic optimization

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, recently completed a 5-year research project looking at how to make fibre optic communications systems more energy efficient. Among their proposals are smart, error-correcting data chip circuits, which they refined to be 10 times less energy consumptive. The project has yielded several scientific articles, in publications including Nature Communications.

Streaming films and music, scrolling through social media, and using cloud-based storage services are everyday activities now.

Im Focus: New synthesis methods enhance 3D chemical space for drug discovery

After helping develop a new approach for organic synthesis -- carbon-hydrogen functionalization -- scientists at Emory University are now showing how this approach may apply to drug discovery. Nature Catalysis published their most recent work -- a streamlined process for making a three-dimensional scaffold of keen interest to the pharmaceutical industry.

"Our tools open up whole new chemical space for potential drug targets," says Huw Davies, Emory professor of organic chemistry and senior author of the paper.

Im Focus: Quantum fluctuations sustain the record superconductor

Superconductivity approaching room temperature may be possible in hydrogen-rich compounds at much lower pressures than previously expected

Reaching room-temperature superconductivity is one of the biggest dreams in physics. Its discovery would bring a technological revolution by providing...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

70th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting: Around 70 Laureates set to meet with young scientists from approx. 100 countries

12.02.2020 | Event News

11th Advanced Battery Power Conference, March 24-25, 2020 in Münster/Germany

16.01.2020 | Event News

Laser Colloquium Hydrogen LKH2: fast and reliable fuel cell manufacturing

15.01.2020 | Event News

 
Latest News

Time-resolved measurement in a memory device

19.02.2020 | Physics and Astronomy

Mixed-signal hardware security thwarts powerful electromagnetic attacks

19.02.2020 | Information Technology

Could water solve the renewable energy storage challenge?

19.02.2020 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>