Titan's Purple Haze Points to a Fuzzy Past

August 2, 2004
Encircled in purple stratospheric haze, Titan appears as a softly glowing sphere in this colorized image taken one day after Cas

Encircled in purple stratospheric haze, Saturn's largest moon, Titan, appears as a softly glowing sphere in this colorized image taken on July 3, 2004, one day after Cassini's first flyby of that moon. Titan has a dense atmosphere composed primarily of nitrogen with a few percent methane. The atmosphere can undergo photochemical processes to form hazes.

Images like this one reveal some of the key steps in the formation and evolution of Titan's haze. The process is thought to begin in the high atmosphere, at altitudes above 400 kilometers (250 miles), where ultraviolet light breaks down methane and nitrogen molecules. The products are believed to react to form more complex organic molecules containing carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen that can combine to form the very small particles seen as haze.

This ultraviolet view of Titan has been falsely colored. The main body is colored pale orange as seen in true color images. Above the orange disc are two distinct layers of atmospheric haze that have been brightened and falsely colored violet to enhance their visibility. It is not currently understood why there are two separate haze layers. This and other questions await answers as the four-year Cassini tour continues, with many more planned flybys of Titan. The upcoming October 2004 flyby of Titan will be 30 times closer than that of July 2.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

For this and other images and information about the Cassini- Huygens mission, visit saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and www.nasa.gov/cassini. Images are also available at the Cassini imaging team home page, ciclops.org.

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Explore further: The dwarf planet Ceres

Related Stories

The dwarf planet Ceres

August 12, 2015

The asteroid belt is a pretty interesting place. In addition to containing between 2.8 and 3.2 quintillion metric tons of matter, the region is also home to many minor planets. The largest of these, known as Ceres, is not ...

The Planet Saturn

August 3, 2015

The farthest planet from the Sun that be observed with the naked eye, the existence of Saturn has been known for thousands of years. And much like all celestial bodies that can be observed with the aid of instruments – ...

It's alive, it's alive!

July 30, 2015

On June 3, 2015, more than a month before New Horizons, flying faster than speeding bullet, reached its rendezvous with the Pluto system, an astronomer at the Southwest Research Institute who is also a space artist posted ...

Neptune's moon of Triton

July 29, 2015

The planets of the outer solar system are known for being strange, as are their many moons. This is especially true of Triton, Neptune's largest moon. In addition to being the seventh-largest moon in the solar system, it ...

What other worlds have we landed on?

January 14, 2015

Think of all the different horizons humans have viewed on other worlds. The dust-filled skies of Mars. The Moon's inky darkness. Titan's orange haze. These are just a small subset of the worlds that humans or our robots landed ...

Recommended for you

Long-sought chiral anomaly detected in crystalline material

September 3, 2015

A study by Princeton researchers presents evidence for a long-sought phenomenon—first theorized in the 1960s and predicted to be found in crystals in 1983—called the "chiral anomaly" in a metallic compound of sodium and ...

Making nanowires from protein and DNA

September 3, 2015

The ability to custom design biological materials such as protein and DNA opens up technological possibilities that were unimaginable just a few decades ago. For example, synthetic structures made of DNA could one day be ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.