Cassini Maps Global Pattern of Titan's Dunes

Feb 27, 2009
Scientists have used data from the Cassini radar mapper to map the global wind pattern on Saturn's moon Titan using data collected over a four-year period, as depicted in this image. Image: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

(PhysOrg.com) -- Titan's vast dune fields, which may act like weather vanes to determine general wind direction on Saturn's biggest moon, have been mapped by scientists who compiled four years of radar data collected by the Cassini spacecraft.

Titan's rippled dunes are generally oriented east-west. Surprisingly, their orientation and characteristics indicate that near the surface, Titan's winds blow toward the east instead of toward the west. This means that Titan's surface winds blow opposite the direction suggested by previous global circulation models of Titan.

"At Titan there are very few clouds, so determining which way the wind blows is not an easy thing, but by tracking the direction in which Titan's sand dunes form, we get some insight into the global wind pattern," says Ralph Lorenz, Cassini radar scientist at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. "Think of the dunes sort of like a weather vane, pointing us to the direction the winds are blowing." A paper based on these findings appeared in the Feb. 11 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

"Titan's dunes are young, dynamic features that interact with topographic obstacles and give us clues about the wind regimes," said Jani Radebaugh, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. "Winds come at these dunes from at least a couple of different directions, but then combine to create the overall dune orientation."

The wind pattern is important for planning future Titan explorations that might involve balloon-borne experiments.

Some 16,000 dune segments were mapped out from about 20 radar images, digitized and combined to produce the new map.

Titan's dunes are believed to be made up of hydrocarbon sand grains likely derived from organic chemicals in Titan's smoggy skies. The dunes wrap around high terrain, which provides some idea of their height. They accumulate near the equator, and may pile up there because drier conditions allow for easy transport of the particles by the wind. Titan's higher latitudes contain lakes and may be "wetter" with more liquid hydrocarbons, not ideal conditions for creating dunes.

Cassini, which launched in 1997 and is now in extended mission operations, continues to blaze its trail around the Saturn system and will visit Titan again on March 27. Seventeen Titan flybys are planned this year.

Provided by NASA

Explore further: Bright points in Sun's atmosphere mark patterns deep in its interior

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Cassini captures familiar forms on Titan's dunes

Apr 08, 2014

(Phys.org) —The moons of our Solar System are brimming with unusual landscapes. However, sometimes they look a little more familiar, as in this new radar image from the Cassini orbiter. The image shows ...

In deserts, which dunes are the most stable?

May 28, 2010

By modeling a desert where the wind blows in two directions, French researchers from CNRS and Universite Paris Dideror have succeeded in observing and highlighting, for the very first time, the formation process ...

Mystery of the missing waves on Titan

Jul 23, 2013

One of the most shocking discoveries of the past 10 years is how much the landscape of Saturn's moon Titan resembles Earth. Like our own blue planet, the surface of Titan is dotted with lakes and seas; it ...

Forecast for Titan: Wild weather could be ahead

May 22, 2013

(Phys.org) —Saturn's moon Titan might be in for some wild weather as it heads into its spring and summer, if two new models are correct. Scientists think that as the seasons change in Titan's northern hemisphere, ...

Titan gets a dune 'makeover'

Jan 17, 2013

(Phys.org)—Titan's siblings must be jealous. While most of Saturn's moons display their ancient faces pockmarked by thousands of craters, Titan - Saturn's largest moon - may look much younger than it really ...

Recommended for you

Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

13 hours ago

This Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, three former NASA astronauts will present new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… ...

Rosetta instrument commissioning continues

14 hours ago

We're now in week four of six dedicated to commissioning Rosetta's science instruments after the long hibernation period, with the majority now having completed at least a first initial switch on.

Astronaut salary

14 hours ago

Talk about a high-flying career! Being a government astronaut means you have the chance to go into space and take part in some neat projects—such as going on spacewalks, moving robotic arms and doing science ...

Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

Apr 16, 2014

Monday night's lunar eclipse proved just as delightful as expected to those able to view it. On the East Coast, cloudy skies may have gotten in the way, but at the National Science Foundation's National Optical ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Hubble image: A cross-section of the universe

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Chronic inflammation linked to 'high-grade' prostate cancer

Men who show signs of chronic inflammation in non-cancerous prostate tissue may have nearly twice the risk of actually having prostate cancer than those with no inflammation, according to results of a new study led by researchers ...