Crystal clear infrared images of Titan show Saturn's moon like never before

July 20, 2018, 12:30 p.m.
These six infrared images of Saturn's moon Titan are some of the clearest of the icy moon so far.
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Stéphane Le Mouélic, University of Nantes, Virginia Pasek, University of Arizona

Cassini — a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency — may have completed its mission last year as it plunged into the ringed planet, but researchers are still sifting through the data the spacecraft sent back to Earth.

For instance, these infrared images of Saturn's moon Titan are the result of 13 years of images captured by Cassini's Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS). Normally, Titan is a smudgy yellow glob because of the aerosols in its upper atmosphere, which scatter visible light. Aerosols aren't a problem for infrared, however, and Cassini was able to get these crystal clear images of Titan's surface.

It took 13 years to get these images because Cassini had narrow windows in which to snap pictures using VIMS, and it would often take pictures during different flybys, which would occur at different geometries and atmospheric conditions. Researchers had to take considerable care when stitching together the images to present Titan in this whole new way.

"It is quite clear from this unique set of images that Titan has a complex surface, sporting myriad geologic features and compositional units," NASA writes about the photos. "The VIMS instrument has paved the way for future infrared instruments that could image Titan at much higher resolution, revealing features that were not detectable by any of Cassini’s instruments."

Cassini orbited Saturn for well over a decade, and there's plenty more it has to teach us about it and its moon. Titan's surface is probably just the surface of those lessons.

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