In a bid to further our knowledge of one of Saturn’s moons, Titan, a team of ground-based scientists successfully carried out a tricky maneuver last Wednesday using NASA’s Cassini spacecraft that allowed them to bounce a radio signal off the moon’s surface, sending information back to a receiver located 1 billion miles away on Earth. It is hoped that the data gathered will shed light on the composition of Titan’s vast liquid regions.
Titan, the largest of Saturn’s 62 moons, has attracted a lot of attention in recent years because of its bizarrely Earth-like qualities. Titan is cloaked in a dense, golden haze that obscures our view of its surface and kept its secrets hidden for many years. But data gathered recently, in particular observations from the Cassini spacecraft, has lifted the veil on this moon, revealing many unique features.
Much like Earth, Titan’s atmosphere is predominantly composed of Nitrogen and its surface is decorated with seas, lakes and flowing rivers. It has been hypothesized that rather than being filled with liquid water, they are composed of liquid methane or ethane. However, this suggestion is not based on direct observation but rather the fact that the conditions on Titan would result in methane and ethane being in a liquid state
“There is no really direct measurement that tells us what they are exactly,” Essam Marouf, a member of the Cassini radio science team, told LA Times. “If the data from this morning is good enough, it will tell us what these liquids really are.”
Marouf explains that they are basically using Titan as a mirror to bounce the Cassini radio signal back to Earth. The nature of this echo, which is picked up by a telescope array in Australia, should then hopefully give us a more thorough understanding of Titan’s surface.
While a similar operation was carried out back in May, at that time scientists were using Cassini to gather data on two of Titan’s vast seas; Ligea Mare and Kraken Mare. This time they directed the radio signal towards an area between these two seas which is known to contain smaller bodies of liquid.
Researchers are currently analyzing the data and hope to present the results at a Cassini meeting next week.
[Via Los Angeles Times]