NASA orbiter reveals 'Shangri-La' on Titan

NASA's Cassini orbiter has imaged a large, dark region with linear sand dunes on Saturn's biggest moon, Titan.

NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASI / Université Paris-Diderot
The 'Xanadu Annex' on Titan: This synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) image was obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on July 25, 2016, during its "T-121" pass over Titan's southern latitudes.

New close-up photos of Titan, Saturn's biggest moon, show its mysterious and massive dunes in more detail than ever before.

NASA's Cassini orbiter obtained these images when it flew by Titan for the 122nd time on July 25, 2016. The spacecraft was just 607 miles (976 kilometers) above the alien moon's southern hemisphere, according to NASA officials.  

The new images include an area called the "Shangri-La Sand Sea," a large dark region with hundreds of long and linear sand dunes. A part of this region had been imaged before, but the new image covers more ground and in greater detail. You can see new video of Titan's 'Shangri-La Sand Sea' by NASA here.

Another image reveals the never-before-seen "Xanadu annex," which lies just south of Xanadu, a region with an Earth-like landscape first imaged by Cassini in 1994. [Amazing Photos: Titan, Saturn's Largest Moon]

Because Titan's atmosphere is thick and hazy, its surface is not easily visible with ordinary cameras. But Cassini comes equipped with a special radar instrument that allows it to see through the obstructing fog by beaming radio waves down to the surface.

Cassini's radio waves bounce off of Titan's surface, and the different ground features reflect the waves back at Cassini with different timing and slightly altered wavelengths. By recording these changes to the radio waves, Cassini's radar instrument can construct an image of the landscapes beneath Titan's atmosphere.

Titan's surface is teeming with dunes similar to sand dunes here on Earth, but they aren't made of silicates like our sand. Instead, Titan's sand contains grainy hydrocarbons that formed in its atmosphere before precipitating onto the ground.

The dunes reach heights of more then 300 feet (91 meters), which is aboutas large as the tallest sand dunes on Earth. Compared with the average Earthly sand dune, though, Titan's dunes are gigantic. Their structures can reveal information about Titan's surface topography and wind patterns. [Titan Sand Dunes Reveal Clues of Saturn Moon's Past]

"Dunes are dynamic features. They're deflected by obstacles along the downwind path, often making beautiful, undulating patterns," Jani Radebaugh, a Cassini radar team associate at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, said in a statement.

These new images of Titan's southern terrain will also be Cassini's last. The spacecraft will spend the remainder of its mission checking out lakes and seas in the north. After four more flybys of Saturn's giant moon, Cassini will end its mission by plunging straight into Saturn's atmosphere.

Email Hanneke Weitering at hweitering@space.com or follow her @hannekescience. Follow us @Spacedotcom,Facebookand Google+. Original article on Space.com.

Editor's Recommendations

Copyright 2016 SPACE.com, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to NASA orbiter reveals 'Shangri-La' on Titan
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2016/0921/NASA-orbiter-reveals-Shangri-La-on-Titan
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe