NASA just keeps delivering and new findings from the Spacecraft Cassini just makes you wish NASA’s tongue-in-cheek space tourism was not only a public relations success but a real thing.
Cassini finds Titan’s highest peak
The Cassini-Huygens is a bit of a titan in its own right in addition to being one of NASA’s most ambitious missions launched into space. Its capacity for accurate measurements are unparalleled and its imagery has proved to be better than ever expected when the mission was launched.
Not surprisingly, both the Cassini orbiter and the Huygens probe that comprise the spacecraft have senses that eclipse our own. However, they are “human” in a sense. The spacecraft is equipped with both “remote sensing” and “direct sensing” instruments just as we are if you think of your ears, eyes, tongue and body as instruments. While touch and taste require contact and are direct sensing devices, our eyes and ears allow for remote sensing as you can certainly see and hear things that you’re not in contact with directly.
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The Cassini feels dust particles and magnetic fields, you don’t. The orbiter and probe reached Saturn in 2004, and has been providing Saturnian data to NASA for over a decade with its array of instrumentation with Huygens parachuting to the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, in the 2005.
In the aforementioned space tourism posters that NASA recently released Titan was described as, “Frigid and alien, yet similar to our own planet billions of years ago,” and Cassini simply continues to show these similarities.
In the region of Mithrim Montes, Cassini has now identified what is likely to be Titan’s highest peak which reaches nearly 11,000 feet in altitude.
“It’s not only the highest point we’ve found so far on Titan, but we think it’s the highest point we’re likely to find,” Stephen Wall, deputy lead of the spacecraft Cassini’s radar team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California, said in a recent statement.
Titan’s equator plays host to its grandest mountains
One would think that this peak would have been observed prior to Cassini’s arrival in 2004, but the moon is forever shrouded in a cloudy atmosphere where methane storms rain down on the moon’s surface. It’s truly a mysterious place of ridges and valleys that hosts vast bodies of “water” that is nothing close to water. It’s lakes and (potential) oceans are made of methane and ethane and fall between “ridge belts” that create staggering valleys and dunes made of hydrocarbon sand.
The newly mapped mountain in question is located not only within the Mithrim Montes but in a larger region known as Xanadu where the probe landed over a decade ago.
Titan eerily similar to Earth minus the methane lakes
Titan’s mountains don’t come close to touching the heights of the Himalayas and others but there existence alone suggest tectonic shifting similar to that of Earth’s were forces have forced land upwards from beneath the surface. It’s tectonic forces are most likely the result of tidal forces on Saturn but there remain dissenting opinions.
“As explorers, we’re motivated to find the highest or deepest places, partly because it’s exciting. But Titan’s extremes also tell us important things about forces affecting its evolution,” Jani Radebaugh, a Cassini radar team associate at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, said her portion of the same statement from NASA.
In addition to the mountainous discovery and acknowledgment from NASA, the space agency also released a series of maps put together with the the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) on board Cassini.
“Producing a seamless global map of Titan is a challenging task, because observing conditions can vary greatly between each flyby. Among these variations are changes in the angle of the sun with respect to the surface and in the spacecraft’s viewing direction. Such variations can make it even more difficult to remove the effects of scattering and absorption of light by Titan’s thick, hazy atmosphere,” NASA said in a statement. “These factors create a complex problem that researchers are still working to solve.”
Cassini’s continuing mission
Following it’s launch nearly 20 years ago the Cassini is still vibrant and functional and as a result its present mission, the Cassini Solstice Mission, will continue through September of next year.
It’s likely that NASA will decide to earmark for Cassini a new mission soon with the wealth of knowledge that the orbiter and probe have provided scientists and researchers.
There is little reason to shut down something that works and each week Cassini shows its usefulness.