Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Odd Spot On Titan Baffles Scientists

Date:
May 25, 2005
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
Saturn's moon Titan shows an unusual bright spot that has scientists mystified. The spot, approximately the size and shape of West Virginia, is just southeast of the bright region called Xanadu and is visible to multiple instruments on the Cassini spacecraft.

The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer instrument onboard Cassini has found an unusual bright, red spot on Titan.
Credit: Image courtesy of NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Saturn's moon Titan shows an unusual bright spot that has scientists mystified. The spot, approximately the size and shape of West Virginia, is just southeast of the bright region called Xanadu and is visible to multiple instruments on the Cassini spacecraft.

The 483-kilometer-wide (300-mile) region may be a "hot" spot -- an area possibly warmed by a recent asteroid impact or by a mixture of water ice and ammonia from a warm interior, oozing out of an ice volcano onto colder surrounding terrain. Other possibilities for the unusual bright spot include landscape features holding clouds in place or unusual materials on the surface.

"At first glance, I thought the feature looked strange, almost out of place," said Dr. Robert H. Brown, team leader of the Cassini visual and infrared mapping spectrometer and professor at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona, Tucson. "After thinking a bit, I speculated that it was a hot spot. In retrospect, that might not be the best hypothesis. But the spot is no less intriguing."

The Cassini spacecraft flew by Titan on March 31 and April 16. Its visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, using the longest, reddest wavelengths that the spectrometer sees, observed the spot, the brightest area ever observed on Titan.

Cassini's imaging cameras saw a bright, 550-kilometer-wide (345-mile) semi-circle at visible wavelengths at this same location on Cassini's December 2004 and February 2005 Titan flybys. "It seems clear that both instruments are detecting the same basic feature on or controlled by Titan's surface," said Dr. Alfred S. McEwen, Cassini imaging team scientist, also of the University of Arizona. "This bright patch may be due to an impact event, landslide, cryovolcanism or atmospheric processes. Its distinct color and brightness suggest that it may have formed relatively recently."

Other bright spots have been seen on Titan, but all have been transient features that move or disappear within hours, and have different spectral (color) properties than this feature. This spot is persistent in both its color and location. "It's possible that the visual and infrared spectrometer is seeing a cloud that is topographically controlled by something on the surface, and that this weird, semi-circular feature is causing this cloud," said Dr. Elizabeth Turtle, Cassini imaging team associate, also from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

"If the spot is a cloud, then its longevity and stability imply that it is controlled by the surface. Such a cloud might result from airflow across low mountains or outgassing caused by geologic activity," said Jason Barnes, a postdoctoral researcher working with the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team at the University of Arizona.

The spot could be reflected light from a patch of terrain made up of some exotic surface material. "Titan's surface seems to be mostly dirty ice. The bright spot might be a region with different surface composition, or maybe a thin surface deposit of non-icy material," Barnes added.

Scientists have also considered that the spot might be mountains. If so, they'd have to be much higher than the 100-meter-high (300-foot) hills Cassini's radar altimeter has seen so far. Scientists doubt that Titan's crust could support such high mountains.

The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team will be able to test the hot spot hypothesis on the July 2, 2006, Titan flyby, when they take nighttime images of the same area. If the spot glows at night, researchers will know it's hot.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://www.nasa.gov/cassini. For additional images visit the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer page at http://wwwvims.lpl.arizona.edu and the Cassini imaging team homepage http://ciclops.org.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team is based at the University of Arizona. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Co.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Odd Spot On Titan Baffles Scientists." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 May 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/05/050525205649.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2005, May 25). Odd Spot On Titan Baffles Scientists. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/05/050525205649.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Odd Spot On Titan Baffles Scientists." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/05/050525205649.htm (accessed October 23, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

China Prepares Unmanned Mission To Lunar Orbit

China Prepares Unmanned Mission To Lunar Orbit

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) — The mission is China's next step toward automated sample-return missions and eventual manned missions to the moon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Russian Cosmonauts Kick Off Final Spacewalk of 2014

Russian Cosmonauts Kick Off Final Spacewalk of 2014

Reuters - US Online Video (Oct. 22, 2014) — Russian cosmonauts Maxim Suraev and Alexander Samokutyaev step outside the International Space Station to perform work on the exterior of the station's Russian module. Rough Cut (no reporter narration) Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Comet Siding Spring Grazes Mars' Atmosphere

Comet Siding Spring Grazes Mars' Atmosphere

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) — A comet from the farthest reaches of the solar system passed extremely close to Mars this weekend, giving astronomers a rare opportunity to study it. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Latin America Launches Communications Satellite

Latin America Launches Communications Satellite

AFP (Oct. 17, 2014) — Argentina launches a home-built satellite, a first for Latin America. It will ride a French-made Ariane 5 rocket into orbit, and will provide cell phone, digital TV, Internet and data services to the lower half of South America. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins