Space mission zooms in on Titan

The Cassini-Huygens space mission has photographed Saturn's largest moon for the first time from a distance of just 40 million kilometres.

    Space mission hopes to improve on images provided by Hubble

    Cameras on Cassini will continue to take progressively more detailed pictures of Titan over the next two months.

    But the satellite may find it hard to penetrate the thick atmosphere. So in January, the Huygens probe will be released.

    The probe will plunge down on to Titan's surface - perhaps splashing down into a sea. The moon is nearly the size of Mercury at 5100km across.

    Orbiting our solar system's second largest planet, Titan is believed to support oily lakes and seas.
     
    Special focus

    Scientists are using the camera's spectral filters to focus on a particular region named Xanadu.
     
    Hubble had already identified this large area on the moon that might be a mountain range, a giant basin, a smooth plain, or a combination of all three.

    Xanadu may also be dotted with hydrocarbon lakes, but that is also unknown.

    Dr Carolyn Porco, who leads the Cassini imaging team at the Space Science Institute in the state of Colorado, said she was confident of even better photos in the future.

    "We can rightfully expect to see sights on Titan that have never been seen before by anyone."

    Cassini is headed for a four-year investigation of the Saturnian system and is a joint project between the US, the European space agencies and the Italian Space Agency.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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