Titan’s Seas

The Sun Shines on Titan’s Seas : Image NASA/JPL-CalTech/Univ. Arizona/Univ. Idaho

The movie Interstellar took the crew of the Endurance to an ocean world with giant, wormhole driven waves, and then a frozen wasteland of a planet which left many audience members looking for a marauding Wampa snow beast. The point of departure for all that fun, a stable wormhole around Saturn.

It should have been around Titan, a world offering both waves, albeit much, much smaller, and on hydrocarbon seas, and frozen vistas, including atmopheric ice crystals similar to what the Ranger encountered on its descent.

In the latest dispatch from the Cassini spacecraft, which has seemed to discover everything except a wormhole in the Saturn system, NASA describes mostly successful efforts to map the depth of bays in two of Titan’s seas. The full story is here.

Credit: NASA/JPL-CalTech

Credit: NASA/JPL-CalTech

From the NASA News story:

“The August Titan flyby also included a segment designed to collect altimetry (or height) data, using the spacecraft’s radar instrument along a 120-mile (200-kilometer) shore-to-shore track of Kraken Mare. For a 25-mile (40-kilometer) segment of this data along the sea’s eastern shoreline, Cassini’s radar beam bounced off the sea bottom and back to the spacecraft, revealing the sea’s depth in that area. This region, which is near the mouth of a large, flooded river valley, showed depths of 66 to 115 feet (20 to 35 meters). Cassini will perform this experiment one last time in January 2015, to try to measure the depth of Punga Mare. Punga Mare is the smallest of three large seas in Titan’s far north, and the only sea whose depth has not been observed by Cassini.

Scientists think that, for the areas in which Cassini did not observe a radar echo from the seafloor, Kraken Mare might be too deep for the radar beam to penetrate.  Alternatively, the signal over this region might simply have been absorbed by the liquid, which is mostly methane and ethane. The altimetry data for the area in and around Kraken Mare also showed relatively steep slopes leading down to the sea, which also suggests the Kraken Mare might indeed be quite deep.”

Simply amazing, and perhaps another opportunity to decry NASA’s plan to crash the Cassini probe into Saturn rather than keep flying it until another probe is on the way, and then leave Cassini in a safe orbit as the first permanent exhibit in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum of the Outer Planets. It sure beats a farmhouse.


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