Category Archives: Cassini

Cassini plumbs the depths and new mysteries of Titan’s seas

Cassini radar image of part of Kraken Mare, the largest sea on Titan. Radar echoes on a 25-mile (40-kilometer) track along the eastern shoreline are shown as black and blue circles. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

Cassini radar image of part of Kraken Mare, the largest sea on Titan. Radar echoes on a 25-mile (40-kilometer) track along the eastern shoreline are shown as black and blue circles. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

The Cassini spacecraft continues to make new discoveries about Titan’s methane seas and lakes, answering some questions but raising additional ones as well. As announced this week, Cassini has discovered two more of the unusual “magic islands” – bright features which seem to appear in the seas where they didn’t exist before – and has measured the depth of the largest Titanian sea.

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Titan’s seas and lakes sparkle in the sunlight in recent Cassini images

Near-infrared view, taken Aug. 21, 2014 from Cassini of sunlight glints on methane/ethane seas and lakes near Titan's north pole. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Idaho

Near-infrared view, taken Aug. 21, 2014 from Cassini of sunlight glints on methane/ethane seas and lakes near Titan’s north pole. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Idaho

Saturn’s moon Titan is a very unique world, and the only place in the solar system known to have seas and lakes (liquid methane/ethane) on its surface, other than Earth. And just like our home world, if you look at them at the right moment from space, you can see sunlight gleaming off of them, as the Cassini spacecraft just did again on Aug. 21, 2014.

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Saturn’s moon Mimas may have an underground ocean – or just a weird core

Mimas, a cold, icy, and tiny moon of Saturn, may have a liquid water ocean below its heavily cratered surface. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI

Mimas, a cold, icy, and tiny moon of Saturn, may have a liquid water ocean below its heavily cratered surface. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI

It wasn’t that long ago that Earth was thought to be the only place in the Solar System capable of having liquid water oceans, but now we know of several moons that do as well, including Europa and Enceladus, and likely Titan and Ganymede as well. In all these cases, the oceans are below ground, similar to ocean water below ice sheets at the Earth’s poles. Now there is yet another moon which might be added to this special list: Saturn’s moon Mimas.

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Giant cloud at Titan’s south pole is toxic and freezing cold

View from Cassini of the huge polar vortex cloud over Titan’s south pole. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/University of Arizona/SSI/Leiden Observatory and SRON

View from Cassini of the huge polar vortex cloud over Titan’s south pole. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/University of Arizona/SSI/Leiden Observatory and SRON

Titan is the only moon in the solar system known to have a dense atmosphere, and while similar to Earth’s atmosphere in some ways, such as being rich in nitrogen, it also holds surprises for planetary scientists. Analysis of data from Cassini of a huge cloud which hovers over the moon’s south pole shows that it is both toxic and colder than expected.

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It’s back! ‘Mystery Island’ in Titan sea makes unexpected reappearance

Three radar images, taken from April 2007 to August 2014, showing how the “mystery island” in Ligeia Mare has changed in appearance over time. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

Three radar images, taken from April 2007 to August 2014, showing how the “mystery island” in Ligeia Mare has changed in appearance over time. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

The mystery of an unusual feature in one of Titan’s hydrocarbon seas, dubbed the “mystery island,” has taken an interesting turn. After apparently disappearing following its initial discovery in 2013, it has now reappeared and has changed in appearance and size, as well.

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Rainfall on Titan may create propane aquifers, study suggests

Illustration of a cross-section of Titan’s surface and near-subsurface, showing the surface lakes/seas, underground aquifers, clathrate layers, and icy crust. Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

Illustration of a cross-section of Titan’s surface and near-subsurface, showing the surface lakes/seas, underground aquifers, clathrate layers, and icy crust. Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is a very alien yet eerily Earth-like world, with rain, rivers, lakes, and seas; seen from above, the landscape has a familiar look to it. But those lakes, seas, and rivers are fed by a different kind of rainfall – liquid methane/ethane. It is far too cold on the surface for liquid water, but the liquid hydrocarbons nicely fill in for H20 in Titan’s “water cycle.” Now, a new study shows how this rainfall interacts with and changes underground aquifers.

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Space dust indicates ancient origin for Saturn’s rings

Mosaic image showing Saturn backlit by the Sun, one of the most beautiful photographs sent back by Cassini. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Mosaic image showing Saturn backlit by the Sun, one of the most beautiful photographs sent back by Cassini. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The origin of Saturn’s rings has been one of the most interesting puzzles in planetary science, and now new data from the Cassini spacecraft is helping to fill in the pieces, showing that the majestic ring system is very ancient, probably as old as Saturn itself.

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Behold Enceladus: Cassini maps 101 geysers on tiny Saturn moon

The geysers at the south pole of Enceladus, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

The geysers at the south pole of Enceladus, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Saturn’s moon Enceladus is already known as one of the most intriguing places in our solar system, and now new findings from the Cassini spacecraft have been published, which will only add to our fascination with this little world.

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Titan’s hidden ocean might be as salty as the Dead Sea

Illustration of what Titan’s interior is thought to look like, with a rigid ice shell above the salty water ocean below. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Illustration of what Titan’s interior is thought to look like, with a rigid ice shell above the salty water ocean below. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Saturn’s moon Titan is known for its methane seas, lakes, and rivers; surprisingly Earth-like in appearance yet distinctly alien at the same time. But there is also evidence for another ocean, this one of water, below the surface. Little is known about this hidden watery world, but now new results suggest it is likely very salty – as much as the Dead Sea on Earth.

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Cassini at Saturn: 10 years of amazing planetary science and more to come

Mosaic image showing Saturn backlit by the Sun, one of the most beautiful and surreal photographs sent back by Cassini. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Mosaic image showing Saturn backlit by the Sun, one of the most beautiful and surreal photographs sent back by Cassini. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The Cassini mission to Saturn has been one of the most successful and exciting in all of space exploration history. That amazing spacecraft is now celebrating its 10th anniversary today orbiting the ringed planet, after having revolutionized our understanding of the Saturnian system, which is like another entire smaller-scale solar system. But there is still much more to come!

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