NASA’s Cassini probe has sent back stunning pictures of Titan, revealing the methane seas of Saturn’s moon glittering in the sunlight.
The stunning reflection, also known as the specular point, is located in the south of the Kraken Mare, Titan’s largest sea, the Daily Mail notes. Captured in near-infrared light, the greenish mosaic shows the sunlight glinting off Titan’s north polar seas, though the unaided human eye would see nothing more than a haze.
— Marcus Gilmer (@marcusgilmer) November 3, 2014
Cassini has previously returned views of Titan’s polar seas and the sun reflecting off them yet, as CNET reports, this is the first time that both have been pictured in the same image. The official term for the combination is a “sunglint.”
In addition, the mosaic also depicts bright methane clouds near Titan’s north pole, which NASA says could be actively releasing rainfall. They also point out the “bathtub ring” around the Kraken Mare, evidence that evaporation has caused Titan’s seas to shrink over time.
Since the surface of Titan is so cold, water cannot exist as a liquid. As Discovery News notes, the moon’s weather cycle relies on liquid methane, which evaporates into the clouds before raining down on Titan’s hydrocarbon surface. In much the same way as Earth’s water cycle, Titan’s methane cycle is responsible for creating rivers, lakes, and valleys.
— Observing Space (@ObservingSpace) October 30, 2014
Cassini set out to explore Saturn in 1997 and is still returning fascinating views of the ringed planet. This latest image was captured on August 21 by Cassini’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer. The flyby of Titan that produced the image is referred to as “T104” by the Cassini team.
— Universe Today (@universetoday) November 2, 2014
Saturn’s largest moon, Titan has been a source of much interest at NASA, as conditions there mirror a primordial Earth in many ways. Titan’s atmosphere is thick, and its organic-rich chemistry makes it similar to a frozen version of the Earth, before oxygen was pumped into the atmosphere. As the Inquisitr previously reported, a proposal to send a quadcopter-like drone to Titan received a phase one grant of $100,000 from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program earlier this year, thanks in large part to the data relayed from Cassini.
[Image: NASA via the Daily Mail]