Success! Cassini flies by Titan, collects intel on mysterious lakes

Jun 20, 2014
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Idaho

NASA's Cassini mission flew past Titan early Wednesday morning, successfully completing a complex maneuver that will help scientists better understand one of the solar system's most intriguing moons.

Beginning around midnight, a team of scientists and engineers guided the spacecraft into an orbit that allowed them to bounce a radio signal off the surface of Titan toward Earth, where it was received by a land-based telescope array 1 billion miles away.

"We are essentially using Titan as a mirror," said Essam Marouf of San Jose State University, who's a member of the Cassini radio science team. "And the nature of the echo can tell us about the nature of Titan's surface, whether it is liquid or solid, and the physical properties of the material."

Saturn's moon Titan is the second-largest moon in the after Jupiter's moon Ganymede, and in some ways it's one of the most Earth-like bodies we have encountered. Like Earth, it has a thick atmosphere, and it is the only other world we know of that has a system of liquid lakes and seas on its surface.

However, unlike Earth, its surface is far too cold to sustain liquid water.

Scientists have hypothesized that Titan's famous lakes and seas are made of or ethane, but Marouf explains that those inferences are mostly based on the fact that methane and ethane would take on a liquid state in the conditions on Titan, rather than direct observation.

"There is no really direct measurement that tells us what they are exactly," he said. "If the data from this morning is good enough, it will tell us what these liquids really are."

From 11:30 Tuesday evening to 11 Wednesday morning, Marouf gathered with other members of Cassini's radio science team in a control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge near downtown Los Angeles, watching as the new data were received by a in Australia.

He said they could not analyze the data in real time, but they were able to tell that the signal was clear enough to give them something to work with.

Cassini performed a similar experiment on Saturn's surface on May 17 that was also a success. That time, the researchers were able to collect information from two of the largest bodies of liquid on Titan: Ligea Mare and Kraken Mare.

This time, Cassini bounced its off an area between the two seas where radar images had found smaller liquid regions similar to rivers, lakes and channels on Earth.

"This kind of experiment takes a meticulous kind of preparation to first know where to look, and then design the maneuvers," Marouf said. "There are many pieces that have to work flawlessly to end up with the data."

He said the team hopes to look over the data this week and share its early results at a Cassini science team meeting next week in the Netherlands.

Explore further: Cassini sheds light on Titan's second largest lake, Ligeia Mare

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cantdrive85
1.3 / 5 (14) Jun 20, 2014
Scientists have hypothesized that Titan's famous lakes and seas are made of liquid methane or ethane, but Marouf explains that those inferences are mostly based on the fact that methane and ethane would take on a liquid state in the conditions on Titan, rather than direct observation.
"There is no really direct measurement that tells us what they are exactly," he said. "If the data from this morning is good enough, it will tell us what these liquids really are."


Assumption and inference is what modern astrophysics is ALL about, yet to suggest that these "inferences" are incorrect brings out the apologetic "science" police.
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (13) Jun 20, 2014
"There is no really direct measurement that tells us what they are exactly," he said. "If the data from this morning is good enough, it will tell us what these liquids really are."
Assumption and inference is what modern astrophysics is ALL about, yet to suggest that these "inferences" are incorrect brings out the apologetic "science" police.
Wrong! Modern science is based on experimentally measured evidence. Hypotheses are not valid until they are verified empirically.
pugphan
1 / 5 (13) Jun 20, 2014
They're here...see weliveamonyou.com
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (12) Jun 20, 2014
Well. Crackpots aside (and what are they doing purveying anti-science on science sites?), of course astrophysics is well founded. Take such a simple astrophysical system as the van Allen belts, that are derived from our geomagnetic field acting as a particle trap. Observable? You bet!

Or take the geomagnetic field itself, which origin as a dynamo field attests to the warm core of terrestrial planets and hence predicts the heat flow from the mantle as well as the geoneutrinos from the expected radioactive heat component. Observable? You bet!

In fact, the only ones loosing bets with reality is the crackpots. If only they started to crack books in astrophysics instead of their own head against the wall. Again and again... =D

PS Notably the first crackpot is creationist. E.g. _he_ (less likely she) is the apologetic for non-reality such as long since rejected ideas of magic agencies 'creating' stuff. Skeptics and scientists have no such need, it is enough to point at the telling facts.
ILOVEMYEGGBUDDY
1 / 5 (5) Jun 20, 2014
Ya know.... With all them old computer components layin' around in junkyards all over the world, it don't surprise me one bit that some of them Chips have somehow floated up & out of our atmosphere & landed on them mysterious Titan Lakes, not to mention all the electronic crap that's already flyin' around out there. What I'm wonderin' is - How did Cassini manage to scoop 'em up before they sunk to the bottom & if they're reusable ? If so, this could be the beginning of something VERY ROUTINE for NASA !
otero
Jun 20, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
11791
1.4 / 5 (9) Jun 20, 2014
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antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (13) Jun 20, 2014
"We are essentially using Titan as a mirror," said Essam Marouf of San Jose State University, who's a member of the Cassini radio science team. "And the nature of the echo can tell us about the nature of Titan's surface, whether it is liquid or solid, and the physical properties of the material."

I've heard of radar ranging, but guven the limited power of Cassini that is ridiculous (ridicoulously awesome, that is)
alfie_null
5 / 5 (11) Jun 21, 2014
Also, the above rule implies too, that the experimental evidence of magnetic motors, cold fusion or scalar waves beats every well or worse minded theory about impossibility of their existence.

What evidence? People have been yakking about this stuff for years, yet no-one is able to replicate claimed results. I note these topics you mention do attract a certain sort of mind. My observation is it's little more than a demonstration of aberrant mental activity.
IMP-9
4.7 / 5 (12) Jun 21, 2014
What about the fifty years of quite blind... search for gravitational waves?


Yes, if you completely ignore Hulse-Taylor Binary and the several other compact object binaries which have shown quite convincing evidence for gravitational waves. GR has many succesful tests, it is not the average hypothesis. Picking the evidence you like is not an argument. String theory and SUSY are hypotheses, no one claims they are valid, yet.
Patricia Konarski Tucson UA
5 / 5 (3) Jun 23, 2014
Wow! Another giant leap for mankind! I cannot wait to see what awaits us through our further exploration!
hgldr
5 / 5 (3) Jun 23, 2014
Casinni Team - Bravo. I can't wait till the data is analyzed!
ECOnservative
not rated yet Jul 09, 2014
How does something roughly twice the size of our Moon, and .25 as large as Mars keep such a thick atmosphere? There's a real mystery..