NASA has lifted the thick veil that covered the surface of Titan, revealing the clearest view Saturn’s icy moon ever obtained.
The six infrared images were created using 13 years of data acquired by the Visual and Infrared Cartography Spectrometer (VIMS) onboard the Cassini spacecraft, in observations made under a wide variety of lighting and vision conditions throughout of the mission.
According to NASA, this new collection of images is by far the best representation of how Titan could appear to the casual observer if it were not for the hazy atmosphere of this moon.
As NASA has explained, it is extremely difficult to observe the surface of Titan in the visible region of the spectrum, due to the mist that surrounds it. This is mainly due to small particles called aerosols in the upper atmosphere of Titan that scatter visible light, making direct observations a difficult thing.
But the surface of Titan can be visualized more easily in a few infrared “windows”: infrared wavelengths where scattering and light absorption are much weaker. This is where the VIMS instrument stood out, whose mosaics have always represented a challenge.
Now, thanks to a laborious and detailed analysis of the data, along with a tedious hand-processing of the mosaics, the mist could be separated to obtain unprecedented images of this alien world.
Titan is the largest of Saturn’s satellites and the second of the solar system behind Ganymede.
It is also the only known satellite that has an important atmosphere, and the only object, apart from the Earth, in which clear evidence of stable liquid bodies on the surface has been found.
Titan has a diameter 50% larger than the Moon and is 80% more massive; It is larger in volume than the planet Mercury, although its mass represents 40% of the latter.
It was discovered in 1655 by the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens and was the first known satellite of Saturn and the fifth known satellite of another planet.
It has been found that Titan is a world extraordinarily abundant in organic compounds, especially methane.
Scientists estimate that the liquid hydrocarbon content of Titan (in the form of seas and lakes) is hundreds of times higher than that of all the oil and natural gas reserves on Earth.
In addition, its equatorial dunes are likely to contain hundreds of times more organic matter than all of Earth’s coal reserves together.