Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Cassini Reveals Titan's Xanadu Region To Be An Earth-Like Land

Date:
July 23, 2006
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
New radar images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft revealed geological features similar to Earth on Xanadu, an Australia-sized, bright region on Saturn's moon Titan.

Radar movie of Titan, showing a variety of geologic features, including impact craters, wind-blown deposits, channels and cryovolcanic features.
Credit: Image credit: NASA/JPL

New radar images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft revealed geological features similar to Earth on Xanadu, an Australia-sized, bright region on Saturn's moon Titan.

These radar images, from a strip more than 4,500 kilometers (2,796 miles) long, show Xanadu is surrounded by darker terrain, reminiscent of a free-standing landmass. At the region's western edge, dark sand dunes give way to land cut by river networks, hills and valleys. These narrow river networks flow onto darker areas, which may be lakes. A crater formed by the impact of an asteroid or by water volcanism is also visible. More channels snake through the eastern part of Xanadu, ending on a dark plain where dunes, abundant elsewhere, seem absent. Appalachian-sized mountains crisscross the region.

"We could only speculate about the nature of this mysterious bright country, too far from us for details to be revealed by Earth-based and space-based telescopes. Now, under Cassini's powerful radar eyes, facts are replacing speculation," said Dr. Jonathan Lunine, Cassini interdisciplinary scientist at the University of Arizona, Tucson. "Surprisingly, this cold, faraway region has geological features remarkably like Earth."

Titan is a place of twilight, dimmed by a haze of hydrocarbons surrounding it. Cassini's radar instrument can see through the haze by bouncing radio signals off the surface and timing their return. In the radar images, bright regions indicate rough or scattering material, while a dark region might be smoother or more absorbing material, possibly liquid.

Xanadu was first discovered by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in 1994 as a striking bright spot seen in infrared imaging. When Cassini's radar system viewed Xanadu on April 30, 2006, it found a surface modified by winds, rain, and the flow of liquids. At Titan's frigid temperatures, the liquid cannot be water; it is almost certainly methane or ethane.

"Although Titan gets far less sunlight and is much smaller and colder than Earth, Xanadu is no longer just a mere bright spot, but a land where rivers flow down to a sunless sea," Lunine said.

Observations by the European Space Agency's Huygens probe, which Cassini carried to Titan, and by NASA's Voyager spacecraft strongly hint that both methane rain and dark orange hydrocarbon solids fall like soot from the moon's dark skies.

On Xanadu, liquid methane might fall as rain or trickle from springs. Rivers of methane might carve the channels and carry off grains of material to accumulate as sand dunes elsewhere on Titan.

"This land is heavily tortured, convoluted and filled with hills and mountains," said Steve Wall, the Cassini radar team's deputy leader at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "There appear to be faults, deeply cut channels and valleys. Also, it appears to be the only vast area not covered by organic dirt. Xanadu has been washed clean. What is left underneath looks like very porous water ice, maybe filled with caverns."

"In the 1980s, it took the shuttle imaging radar to discover subsurface rivers in the Sahara. Similarly, if it hadn't been for the Cassini radar, we would have missed all of this. We have a newly discovered continent to explore," Wall said.

Cassini will view Titan again on Saturday, July 22, exploring the high northern latitudes. In the next two years the orbiter will fly by Titan 29 times, nearly twice as many encounters as in the first half of Cassini's four-year prime mission. Twelve of the planned flybys will use radar.

For Cassini images and information, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov .

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.


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. "Cassini Reveals Titan's Xanadu Region To Be An Earth-Like Land." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 July 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060721202957.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2006, July 23). Cassini Reveals Titan's Xanadu Region To Be An Earth-Like Land. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060721202957.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Cassini Reveals Titan's Xanadu Region To Be An Earth-Like Land." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060721202957.htm (accessed August 20, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Space to Ground: Hello Georges

Space to Ground: Hello Georges

NASA (Aug. 18, 2014) Europe's ATV-5 delivers new science and the crew tests smart SPHERES. Questions or comments? Use #spacetoground to talk to us. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tiny Satellites, Like The One Tossed From ISS, On The Rise

Tiny Satellites, Like The One Tossed From ISS, On The Rise

Newsy (Aug. 18, 2014) The Chasqui I, hand-delivered into orbit by a Russian cosmonaut, is one of hundreds of small satellites set to go up in the next few years. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
This Week @ NASA, August 15, 2014

This Week @ NASA, August 15, 2014

NASA (Aug. 15, 2014) Carbon Observatory’s First Data, ATV-5 Delivers Cargo, Cygnus Departs Station and more... Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space Shuttle Replica Hoisted for Landmark Exhibit

Space Shuttle Replica Hoisted for Landmark Exhibit

Reuters - US Online Video (Aug. 14, 2014) The space shuttle replica Independence has been hoisted atop Space Center Houston's shuttle carrier aircraft, creating a monument to the shuttle program which will open to the public next year. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
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:
from the past week

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