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Valleys on Titan Show North-South Contrast

Press Release From: European Planetary Science Congress
Posted: Wednesday, September 16, 2009

image A team of German scientists led by Mirjam Langhans, from the German Aerospace Center (DLR), will present first results of a global analysis of spatial patterns, occurrence and origin of river channels on Titan at the European Planetary Science Congress in Potsdam, Germany, on Wednesday 16 September.

To date scientists have focused their investigations on single channels due to the fact that radar and spectral data have only been captured for some narrow areas of the surface below the thick nitrogen atmosphere of this mysterious moon of Saturn. This data jigsaw puzzle is increasingly being filled in through further fly bys of Titan by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Now, for the first time, the DLR team has developed a global perspective of the deposits of liquid hydrocarbons, such as methane and ethane, and their affected forms of erosion.

Beside the Earth, Titan is the only body in the Solar System where liquids directly have been proved to exist. The moon's exceptionally thick atmosphere, where chemical reactions occur at freezing temperatures of -179 degrees Celsius, makes this second largest moon of the Solar System of special interest for planetary science.

The DLR scientists have compiled a global map of Titan, which combines all radar data and details the surface of Titan down to 300 meters in size. Furthermore, data in near infrared wavelengths have been captured for a wide band around the equator by Cassini's Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) with a resolution of up to 300 meters per pixel.

On this equatorial band, bright continent areas and extensive dune regions can be distinguished. Dark spots on the continent areas are of special interest, because they are supposed to be fluvial deposits. Additional radar data show channels precisely linked to them, which are dry, canyon-like, and broadly distributed.

Towards the north pole, the picture is much richer. There is a dense network of branching, active river systems similar to those on Earth. They are visible down to small tributaries on radar images and can be seen flowing into multiple lakes. Contrastingly, hardly any channels are found at the south pole.

"The observations of the extensive river structures at the north pole have led the team to a fascinating conclusion: there must be heavy and frequent rain of liquid hydrocarbons. Furthermore the measured channels provide first clues about the composition and relative age of different regions of Titan," said Langhans.

IMAGES

Images can be found at: http://www.europlanet-eu.org/demo/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=158

FURTHER INFORMATION

CASSINI-HUYGENS MISSION

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Cassini spacecraft has been in orbit around Saturn since July 2004. Up to now it is the most comprehensive project for the exploration of one solar system planet. On 15 January 2005 for some hours the atmospheric probe Huygens flew through the atmosphere of Titan and touched down smoothly on the -179 degree Centigrade icy surface of the moon. Cassini completed its initial four-year mission to explore the Saturn System in June 2008. The Cassini Equinox mission is a two-year extension to September 2010. Further mission extensions are intended.

For more information see: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/introduction/

EUROPEAN PLANETARY SCIENCE CONGRESS (EPSC) 2009

EPSC 2009 is organised by Europlanet, a Research Infrastructure funded under the European Commission's Framework 7 Programme, in association with the European Geosciences Union. It is the major meeting in Europe for planetary scientists. The programme comprises 37 sessions and workshops covering a wide range of planetary topics.

EPSC 2009 is taking place at the Kongresshotel am Templiner See, Potsdam, Germany from Sunday 13 September to Friday 18 September 2009.

For further details, see the meeting website: http://meetings.copernicus.org/epsc2009/

EUROPLANET RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURE (RI)

Europlanet Research RI is a major (O6 million) programme co-funded by the European Union under the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission.

Europlanet RI brings together the European planetary science community through a range of Networking Activities, aimed at fostering a culture of cooperation in the field of planetary sciences, Transnational Access Activities, providing European researchers with access to a range of laboratory and field site facilities tailored to the needs of planetary research, as well as on-line access to the available planetary science data, information and software tools, through the Integrated and Distributed Information Service. These programmes are underpinned by Joint Research Activities, which are developing and improving the facilities, models, software tools and services offered by Europlanet

Europlanet Project website: http://www.europlanet-ri.eu/

Europlanet Outreach/Media website: http://www.europlanet-eu.org/

Science Contact:

Mirjam Langhans
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 67055-398
E-mail: Mirjam.Langhans@dlr.de

Falk Dambowsky
EPSC Press Support
Falk.Dambowsky@dlr.de

Media Contacts:

Anita Heward
Europlanet Press Officer
Mobile: +44 (0)7756-034243
E-mail: anita.heward@europlanet-eu.org

Eleni Chatzichristou
Europlanet Press Officer
Mobile: +30 6872235681
E-mail: eleni.chatzichristou@europlanet-eu.org

European Planetary Science Congress Press Office
(14-18 September only)
Tel: +49 331 907 48 902 (English enquiries)
Tel: +49 331 907 48 903 (German enquiries)

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