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New Images Of Titan's Surface Released 56

Phrogman writes: "The most detailed images of the surface of Saturn's mysterious moon Titan have now been made public. There is more information in an article on Spaceref located here." Interestingly, the photos show three distinct bright areas around Titan's equator.
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New Images Of Titan's Surface Released

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  • Wasn't Titan the destination of the ship at the end of the movie? Maybe there's something worth seeing after all, but I wouldn't sit in an incinerator scrubbing the dead skin cells off my body to find out. But that's just me.
  • by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Sunday August 06, 2000 @05:07PM (#875106)
    If you want methane for hydrogen fusion, there's a much better way to go about it. I mean, you're already out there near Saturn anyway, just scoop up some hydrogen. Or from jupiter, depending on circumstances. It's much easier. I don't really have the authority to produce educated comments on this, but I think you can get to a point where the atmosphere is thin enough around Saturn (or jupiter) to scoop using magnetic fields while at orbital speeds. Not very dense at all, but you're moving fast. Also, orbital mech. teaches us that it's most efficient to burn inside the deepest grav well available, b/c the gradient is steepest and you change potential most in the shortest distance. That's how those "gravity slingshot" maneuvers work. You do a low power burn very deep in a grav well, and you get a big kick from the body producing it.

  • I must say, the resolution is downright shameful in those pictures. Even the hi-res ones.

    They look like first generation 3D cards did, with
    a texture slapped on something that resembles a

    Methinks they could use a wee bit of FSAA around the edges there!
  • HST has a 2 micron filter. The filter is used with NICMOS which is currently not working. NICMOS is scheduled to be fixed for the next servicing mission, assuming it ever flies.

    Adaptive optics is quite promising for planetary science. Soon we will be getting HST quality images from the ground with these techniques. Just don't ask me how soon soon is....

    For propaganda about Adaptive Optics, check out the CfAO homepage []

  • The story says:
    Titan will be visited by the Huygens lander which is due to enter Titan's atmosphere in November 2004. It is capable of floating for a few minutes should it land in one of these oceans.
    So, assuming it was designed to be able to float (rather than just bobbing around for a minute while it fills with 'water'), why could the engineers only manage to get it to float for a few minutes??

    To answer my own question, perhaps the low temperature of the 'water' will eventually reduce the effectiveness of whatever the probe uses for boyancy?

    Then again, maybe its waterwings will freeze and shatter :)

  • by american_bongo ( 219162 ) on Sunday August 06, 2000 @06:40PM (#875110) Homepage
    Telescopes have already detected [] liquid seas on TItan and that Titan has a nitrogen-rich atmosphere [] similar to that of the early Earth. And those distinct bright areas around the equator? That's the supposed great basin of Titan that was theorized about a year ago. I don't know, but this article seems to be old news about a potentially habital planet.
  • BTW: The "huygens" lander is an ESA probe and cassini+huygens have been launched three years ago - when NASA had more money :-).

    I guess the Cassini/huygens mission is the most expensive planetary project of the last 15 (and the next 5) years - Cassini's weight is 5.6 metric tons when fueled and the mission will last over 11 years. (What`s interesting: Most parts of the flight software have not been written yet and will be uploaded before Cassini reaches it's destination.)

    Check out Cassini's or Huygen's web pages for more information:
  • I read somewhere that Titan has the necessary stuff (amino acids, hydrocarbons, etc.) to have life. It also may have volcanoes and would be hot enough for life. Does anyone know if they will get some samples to test for life.

    On a related topic ( kind of), the moon Europa is also supposed to have life.

  • And since when do you get horny by watching moons? ;-)
  • last month NASA uploaded a second batch of software upgrades to Cassini [ ] providing more precise attitude controll using Cassini's gyroscopes instead of just firing thrusters.

    the new sofware will allow steadier pointing of imagers during capture etc. and therefore sharper pictures to be taken by the probe. uploading the last of the software upgrades will be completed in just over two weeks.
  • ... to hate our unit systems. You just have to do any kind of science or engineering with both metric and English units to realize how much the old stuff sucks. At Rice, the intro thermodynamics class uses metric units, so as not to scare off the students, but the advanced thermo class uses English units, so the students will be ready to deal with that crap later. It's like being required to be backwards compatible with old people... and don't get me started on Fortran.

    Why do you think we call them English units anyway, when the English, like the rest of the civilized world, switched to metric decades ago? Because if we called them "American units" we couldn't stand the shame.

    "My car gets 17 rods to the hogshead, and that's the way I likes it!"
  • I hereby submit that those three bright spots should be named "sirens".

    Message ends.
  • Help me through college, please

    Click Dough's anti-spam policy []

  • "They look like first generation 3D cards did, with a texture slapped on something that resembles a circle."

    Well sure, that's because that's what it is. Space is all a hoax and the back of the moon is cardboard and plywood.

    "Methinks they could use a wee bit of FSAA around the edges there!"

    FSAA == full screen anti aliasing. How would you apply that to the edges of the moon in that image exactly? And if it's already pixelated, anti aliasing it will just cover up (badly) the jagged edges and make for one fuzzy photo. What you want is more pixels.

  • I was just about to write about this.. :-) .. Here's an additional link to an artcle [] about a project in the Atacama desert in Chile. This one is even better than the Hawaiian telescope.

    Thank you.
    "No se rinde el gallo rojo, sólo cuando ya está muerto."

  • by goingware ( 85213 ) on Sunday August 06, 2000 @07:42PM (#875120) Homepage
    The resolution you get is determined by the laws of physics. You can work it out either classically, as was originally done using diffraction of electromagnetic waves, or you can do it quantum mechanically, using the uncertainty principle.

    Classically, the blurring is caused by scattering of light by the edges of the telecope. The narrower a "slit" you pass light through, the greater the scattering. If you mount a pair of razor blades a hair's breadth apart and shine a laser through, you'll see bands of light on a wall on the other side from the diffraction. As you move the blades apart (make the opening bigger), the bands get smaller.

    A telescope is like a really big diffraction slit. The problem here also is that the amount of diffraction is determined by the wavelength of light, so that an image taken in the infrared will always have poorer resolution than the same object taken in visible light. There is also atmospheric distortion to contend with.

    Radio waves have very long wavelengths, so a single dish telescope resolves very poorly (like a degree or so). But because the frequency is manageably low you can record the phase on tape and later digitize the signals and combine them from more than one dish you can do interferometry with radio telescopes in a practical way - even interferometry using the whole width of the earth as a baseline. In principle you could have dishes orbiting in different places around the sun and get enormous resolution.

    There is a limited amount of optical interferometry going on too, combining the beam of two or more telescopes, as with the 10 meter on mauna kea - they're building a second to use as an interferometer.

    Quantum mechanically, you cannot know the product of the location of a particle and its momentum better than about Planck's constant h/2 PI. Putting a particle through a slit determines its position with some certainty and so its momentum across the slit becomes undetermined by a corresponding amount.

    With a very narrow slit and a laser beam the uncertainty is large so the photons are scattered as much as a foot or two to either side passing across a room. But passing through the aperture of a 3.6 meter mirror the uncertainty introduced is actually fairly low, so the resolution of a big telescope is high.

    One thing you gotta realize is the apparant diameter as viewed from earth is really miniscule. Look up the actual diameter of Titan in an ephemeris and the distance of both Saturn and the Eart from the Sun (earth is 93 million miles) and you can figure out the solid angle it takes up in the sky at closest approach. It's really tiny!

    For comparison, the usual resolution of most earth-based telescopes is limited to about a quarter of an arc-second on a really good night.

    Up until recently the biggest telescope in the world was the 200" at Palomar Mountain, and it couldn't get nearly the quality of photos of Jupiter and Saturn that the space probes sent by NASA did.

  • I wonder what protocol they're using to upgrade their software. It's gotta be some kind of stateless connection (imagine it: SYN ACK ...). Maybe just a radio broadcast, with something like a FIN containing the checksum of the received data. Anyone have any clues?

    Well according to their website here [] it is indeed radio based and you should be thinking in terms of giving commands to your TV with a remote control rather than expecting a SYN ACK-type scenario. It also seems that to press the buttons on your remote control, requires 6 or more teams. Madness.
  • I would hate to see the low resolution ones. I don't know about anyone else. But, these are nothing new.
    until (succeed) try { again(); }
  • In England we call them "Imperial Units".

    But even using metric units, during my astrophysics degree, you had to face the problem of SI vs CGS units (Joules vs ergs, etc.).

    Nothing's ever easy!

  • Not surprising really. It was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. He was in a fight with the bloke with the big black helmet - then he gave himself to the force. He may not be dead, merely in another form.

  • "code of the lifemaker" by james hogan.
  • Spaceref's server seems to be slashdotted, or something... "HTTP/1.1 Server Too Busy"... Hmm, let's take a closer look...

    Server: Microsoft-IIS/4.0

    Ahh, that explains it!

  • Ever use K as a unit of energy? That's just plain wierd. (it comes about when one takes plank's constant to be 1).

  • If you are using hydrogen for fusion, you don't need very much, and can actually collect enough from the `vacuum' of space. The faster you go, the more you can collect. I think the retarding force due to `air resistance' in space equals the propulsive force that can be obtained from the hydrogen at around 0.25*c. This kind of puts a limit on how fast a space ship can conventionally go. I forget where I read that, and I may not remember exactly, but the idea is the same.

  • The first bright spot is the former Kree base where several Eternals now live [].

    The second one is the colony of telepaths where Imra Ardeen will come from [] in the 29th century.

    But I'm not sure about the third one...
  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Monday August 07, 2000 @05:01AM (#875130)
    A sign of large-scale life would chemical inequilbrium of its renewable waste products. For example, the free oxygen on Earth is unstable and a sign of life. Anomlous chemistry hasn't been seen on Titan yet.

  • Hubble's at 0.9 microns. Their's at 1.3-2 microns. The resolution will degrade accordingly.
  • That Titan movie was a flop, why would anyone care about the surface of..

    Oh, you're talking about the moon Titan. Sorry :-)

    - Joe

  • -258.5 degrees F. Pretty damned cold. Then again, it's pretty far out there.

    For those, by the way, who hate America, and all of it's systems, that's 111.7 K.
  • . .If you look close enough at the pictures of the cold, dead planet on this page [], it kinda looks like cold, dead Algore.
  • by po_boy ( 69692 ) on Sunday August 06, 2000 @04:54PM (#875136) Homepage
    Boiling Point: -161.5 C
    Melting Point: -182.5 C

    And that's probably at 1 atmosphere. I doubt there's anywhere near that kind of pressure on Titan. I would think that would mean that it would have to be colder than that there. html [] says it has "a surface temperature of minus 180 degrees Celsius (- 290 F)"

    Don't lick any flagpoles, doorknobs, or train tracks on your next trip there.

  • You know, before I posted that, I searched on NASA's website to see if it was already launched... :-) Guess it wasn't a thorough enough search.

    Of course, if the arrive date is only 4 years away, common sense says that it's already been launched. :-)


    Most parts of the flight software have not been written yet and will be uploaded before Cassini reaches it's destination

    Sign me up! :-)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Interestingly, the photos show three distinct bright areas around Titan's equator.

    Interestingly, it's probably ice!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I think we should stay away from there. We already fucked up this planet. If there is life there, let 'em live in peace.
  • The adaptive optical system used is called PUEO. Pueo is the name of a Hawaiian owl. This is appropriate as the observatory is located on top of Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii.

    Me and my buddy once tried to take a rental car to this place. 1st off, rental cars are banned from the saddle road that eventually leads to the Mauna Kea access road. F*ck this. So off we went. Then as we went up towards Mauna Kea we eventually reached the end of the paved road at 9000 ft. The top of Mauna Kea is greater than 13000 ft. So up we went. After we passed the sign that said 11,000 ft our rental car died due to lack of air.

    At this altitiude the view was spectacular. Another volcano (Mauna Loa) was visible above the clouds. The unpaved road up there is basically cinder. So we turned the car around, and coasted down hill.

    I saw a great picture of one of my Profs who was up there with a hangover. It showed him lying flat down in some snow. Altitude and hangovers do not mix. BTW, it does snow in Hawaii. You just have to be really high to see this. Really high in Hawaii doesn't necessarily mean pakalolo.:)

  • Plus, some of these images were processed not for visual quality (to humans) but for edge quality (to edge detectors). You'd think that they would add the captions and titles after all of the image processing!
  • Wouldn't this allow the probe to change its direction without having to worry about running out of hydrazine?
  • Titan's atmosphere is four times denser than Earth's.
  • uploading the last of the software upgrades will be completed in just over two weeks.

    Two weeks?? And I thought ftping the RedHat source over a 28.8 connection took a long time.

    I wonder what protocol they're using to upgrade their software. It's gotta be some kind of stateless connection (imagine it: SYN ACK ...). Maybe just a radio broadcast, with something like a FIN containing the checksum of the received data. Anyone have any clues?

    I'll throw in the obligatory M$ slam by saying "Imagine having to reboot a computer 1.3 billion miles from home after a software upgrade."

  • You want sick, try doing stuff in GR, where you set both c and G to be equal to 1.
  • Don't lick any flagpoles
    I triple dog-dare you to lick a flagpole on Titan ;-)
  • No...we must get there ASAP, subjugate them and help them build casinos.
  • Frikin Moderator. I say it again!
    It still isn't offtopic. Sir Alec is dead and I am :(
  • Oceans of methane or ethane? Could that be used as rocket fuel, possibly after breaking it down into hydrogen gas and carbon? Of course, a hydrogen fueled rocket would also require oxygen (unless you're using fusion)...

    Anybody know what the boiling point of methane is? Titan must be pretty damn cold...
  • Is the resolution like that because of the file format that is used to put it on the page, or are these pictures as good as the scientists have? There seems to be no indication in the article.
  • by heatdeath ( 217147 ) on Sunday August 06, 2000 @04:12PM (#875151)
    Titan will be visited by the Huygens lander which is due to enter Titan's atmosphere in November 2004.

    I hope this won't be another 'Low Cost' mission, or else it'll never get all the way to Saturn. ;-)

    But seriously, it's good to know that NASA's got funding to be doing far-reaching stuff like that. It'll be interesting to see when that actually gets off the ground, though.

  • by Shoeboy ( 16224 ) on Sunday August 06, 2000 @04:12PM (#875152) Homepage
    Titan's atmosphere is about four times as dense as Earth's and is composed primarily Nitrogen laced with methane and ethane
    I had lunch a Las Margaritas today. There is an identical atmosphere around my cubicle.
  • by po_boy ( 69692 ) on Sunday August 06, 2000 @04:21PM (#875153) Homepage
    It looks like the article on spaceref links to a french site with the gory details, so I'll preemptively mirror it here: pueo.html []

    Naturally, if anyone of any authority wants it down, mail me and let me know.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm really disapointed with the resolution. I've seen better thumbnails on a porn site than those...
  • by efuseekay ( 138418 ) on Sunday August 06, 2000 @04:25PM (#875155)
    The images are of ground-based adaptive optics enhanced of Titan at the 1.3-2 microns ranges. That is because optical wavelengths cannot penetrate the thick methane atmosphere.

    Now, HST (as several posters have pointed out) has "higher resolution" pictures. But that's at 0.9 microns, which is a factor of 2 smaller than 2 microns. HST does not have a 2 microns filter (methinks), so they can't see Titan from there.

    So the phrase "most detailed" has a lot of qualification to it.

    The interesting result is that they found bright spots, but the statement in their report of mountaineous regions corresponding to albedo (i.e. reflected light) peaks is flaky and almost careless given their scientific pedigree. Bright spots does not correspond to high areas.

    The point is that a liquid sea of methane usually is low in albedo, since methane absorbs light even at low wavelength. SO bright spots means that there might actually be "dry" land on the surface.
  • Anybody know what the boiling point of methane is? Titan must be pretty damn cold...

    Methane (CH4)
    Boiling Point: -161.5 C
    Melting Point: -182.5 C
    Cold, anyway.

  • Here [] is the home page of the telescope project at the University of Hawaii. Projects (photographic, spectographic, etc) news, tools and information.

    Not a very slick, but a very informative site.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    A superior idea, however the larged problem would be making a craft that was able to identify and harvest it's own fuel.

    Once this is done, exploriation would be cake, so long as we know which fuel sources are available on the destination.
  • by enneff ( 135842 ) on Sunday August 06, 2000 @04:14PM (#875159) Homepage
    "some of the best images ever obtained by a ground-based telescope"

    Check these out:

    Hubble Space Telescope Images of Titan's Surface []
    Other Titan Info/Statistics []


  • No. You would need an oxidizer (like, erm, oxygen) so that there will be some sort of chemical reaction going on. Like ethanol + oxygen makes water and carbon dioxide, i.e. good for propulsion, since they produce large amounts of hot gas.

MESSAGE ACKNOWLEDGED -- The Pershing II missiles have been launched.