[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scheduled for launch in 2018, is the
successor to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) but with a significantly larger
aperture (6.5 m) and advanced instrumentation focusing on infrared science
(0.6-28.0 $\mu$m ). In this paper we examine the potential for scientific
investigation of Titan using JWST, primarily with three of the four
instruments: NIRSpec, NIRCam and MIRI, noting that science with NIRISS will be
complementary. Five core scientific themes are identified: (i) surface (ii)
tropospheric clouds (iii) tropospheric gases (iv) stratospheric composition and
(v) stratospheric hazes. We discuss each theme in depth, including the
scientific purpose, capabilities and limitations of the instrument suite, and
suggested observing schemes. We pay particular attention to saturation, which
is a problem for all three instruments, but may be alleviated for NIRCam
through use of selecting small sub-arrays of the detectors - sufficient to
encompass Titan, but with significantly faster read-out times. We find that
JWST has very significant potential for advancing Titan science, with a
spectral resolution exceeding the Cassini instrument suite at near-infrared
wavelengths, and a spatial resolution exceeding HST at the same wavelengths. In
particular, JWST will be valuable for time-domain monitoring of Titan, given a
five to ten year expected lifetime for the observatory, for example monitoring
the seasonal appearance of clouds. JWST observations in the post-Cassini period
will complement those of other large facilities such as HST, ALMA, SOFIA and
next-generation ground-based telescopes (TMT, GMT, EELT).
Full-text · Article · Jan 2016 · Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The Undifferentiated Plains on Titan, first mapped by Lopes et al. (2010), are vast expanses of terrains that appear radar-dark and fairly uniform in Cassini Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) images. As a result, these terrains are often referred to as “blandlands”. While the interpretation of several other geologic units on Titan - such as dunes, lakes, and well-preserved impact craters - has been relatively straightforward, the origin of the Undifferentiated Plains has remained elusive. SAR images show that these “blandlands” are mostly found at mid-latitudes and appear relatively featureless at radar wavelengths, with no major topographic features. Their gradational boundaries and paucity of recognizable features in SAR data make geologic interpretation particularly challenging. We have mapped the distribution of these terrains using SAR swaths up to flyby T92 (July 2013), which cover > 50% of Titan’s surface. We compared SAR images with other data sets where available, including topography derived from the SARTopo method and stereo DEMs, the response from RADAR radiometry, hyperspectral imaging data from Cassini’s Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS), and near infrared imaging from the Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS). We examined and evaluated different formation mechanisms, including (i) cryovolcanic origin, consisting of overlapping flows of low relief or (ii) sedimentary origins, resulting from fluvial/lacustrine or aeolian deposition, or accumulation of photolysis products created in the atmosphere. Our analysis indicates that the Undifferentiated Plains unit is consistent with a composition predominantly containing organic rather than icy materials and formed by depositional and/or sedimentary processes. We conclude that aeolian processes played a major part in the formation of the Undifferentiated Plains; however, other processes (fluvial, deposition of photolysis products) are likely to have contributed, possibly in differing proportions depending on location.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The zone at 35 degrees is thus the ultimate sink for materials from the equator to low polar latitudes; materials making up the equatorial dunes will be transported to the latitude 35-degree belts. Only plains units are observed at latitudes of ∼35 degrees; dunes and materials with the spectral characteristics of dunes are not observed at these latitudes. This observation suggests that either dune materials are converted or modified into plains units or that the margins of dunes are transport limited.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We describe how near-field audio recording using a pocket digital sound recorder can usefully document volcanic activity, demonstrating the approach at Yasur, Vanuatu in May 2014. Prominent emissions peak at 263 Hz, interpreted as an organ-pipe mode. High-pass filtering was found to usefully discriminate volcano vent noise from wind noise, and autocorrelation of the high pass acoustic power reveals a prominent peak in exhalation intervals of ~ 2.5, 4 and 8 s, with a number of larger explosive events at ~ 200 s intervals. We suggest that this compact and inexpensive audio instrumentation can usefully supplement other field monitoring such as seismic or infrasound. A simple estimate of acoustic power interpreted with a dipole jet noise model yielded vent velocities too low to be compatible with pyroclast emission, suggesting difficulties with this approach at audio frequencies (perhaps due to acoustic absorption by volcanic gases).
No preview · Article · Jul 2015 · Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Saturn's moons, Titan and Enceladus, are two of the Solar System's most enigmatic bodies and are prime targets for future space exploration. Titan provides an analogue for many processes relevant to the Earth, more generally to outer Solar System bodies, and a growing host of newly discovered icy exoplanets. Processes represented include atmospheric dynamics, complex organic chemistry, meteorological cycles (with methane as a working fluid), astrobiology, surface liquids and lakes, geology, fluvial and aeolian erosion, and interactions with an external plasma environment. In addition, exploring Enceladus over multiple targeted flybys will give us a unique opportunity to further study the most active icy moon in our Solar System as revealed by Cassini and to analyse in situ its active plume with highly capable instrumentation addressing its complex chemistry and dynamics. Enceladus' plume likely represents the most accessible samples from an extra-terrestrial liquid water environment in the Solar system, which has far reaching implications for many areas of planetary and biological science. Titan with its massive atmosphere and Enceladus with its active plume are prime planetary objects in the Outer Solar System to perform in situ investigations. In the present paper, we describe the science goals and key measurements to be performed by a future exploration mission involving a Saturn-Titan orbiter and a Titan balloon, which was proposed to ESA in response to the call for definition of the science themes of the next Large-class mission in 2013. The mission scenario is built around three complementary science goals: (A) Titan as an Earth-like system; (B) Enceladus as an active cryovolcanic moon; and
Full-text · Article · Dec 2014 · Planetary and Space Science
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: In May of 2012 images of Titan obtained by the Cassini Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS) showed a newly-formed cloud patch near the southern pole. The cloud has unusual morphology and texture suggesting that it is formed by condensation at an altitude much higher than expected for any of the known organics in Titan’s atmosphere. We measured the altitude to be 300 ± 10 km from images when the feature was on the limb. Limb images suggest that the initial stages of the formation began in late 2011. It was just visible in images obtained in 2014 but is not expected to be visible in the future due to enveloping darkness as the season progresses. The feature has a slightly different color than the surrounding haze. Its optical thickness is near 2 at 889 nm wavelength and the particle imaginary refractive index must be less than 5 × 10−4 at that wavelength. Wind vectors derived from a time series show that it is rotating about a center offset by 4.5° from Titan’s solid-body spin axis, consistent with that found from the temperature field by Achterberg et al. (Achterberg, R.K., Conrath, B.J., Gierasch, P.J., Flasar, F.M., Nixon, C.A. [2008a]. Icarus 197, 549–555) and subsequent measurements. The feature rotates at an angular velocity near the rate expected for transport of angular momentum from the low latitudes to the pole. The clumpy texture of the feature resembles that of terrestrial cloud fields undergoing open cell convection, an unusual configuration initiated by downwelling.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Giant planets helped to shape the conditions we see in the Solar System today and they account for more than 99% of the mass of the Sun’s planetary system. They can be subdivided into the Ice Giants (Uranus and Neptune) and the Gas Giants (Jupiter and Saturn), which differ from each other in a number of fundamental ways. Uranus, in particular is the most challenging to our understanding of planetary formation and evolution, with its large obliquity, low self-luminosity, highly asymmetrical internal field, and puzzling internal structure. Uranus also has a rich planetary system consisting of a system of inner natural satellites and complex ring system, five major natural icy satellites, a system of irregular moons with varied dynamical histories, and a highly asymmetrical magnetosphere. Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to have explored Uranus, with a flyby in 1986, and no mission is currently planned to this enigmatic system. However, a mission to the uranian system would open a new window on the origin and evolution of the Solar System and would provide crucial information on a wide variety of physicochemical processes in our Solar System. These have clear implications for understanding exoplanetary systems. In this paper we describe the science case for an orbital mission to Uranus with an atmospheric entry probe to sample the composition and atmospheric physics in Uranus’ atmosphere. The characteristics of such an orbiter and a strawman scientific payload are described and we discuss the technical challenges for such a mission. This paper is based on a white paper submitted to the European Space Agency’s call for science themes for its large-class mission programme in 2013.
Full-text · Article · Aug 2014 · Planetary and Space Science
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We present a radar map of the Titan’s seas, with bathymetry estimated as proportional to distance from the nearest shore. This naïve analytic bathymetry, scaled to a recent radar sounding of Ligeia Mare, suggests a total liquid volume of ∼32,000 km3, at the low end of estimates made in 2008 when mapping coverage was incomplete. We note that Kraken Mare has two principal basins, separated by a narrow (∼17 km wide, ∼40 km long) strait we refer to as the ‘throat’. Tidal currents in this strait may be dramatic (∼0.5 m/s), generating observable effects such as dynamic topography, whirlpools, and acoustic noise, much like tidal races on Earth such as the Corryvreckan off Scotland. If tidal flow through this strait is the dominant mixing process, the two basins take ∼20 Earth years to exchange their liquid inventory. Thus compositional differences over seasonal timescales may exist, but the composition of solutes (and thus evaporites) over Croll–Milankovich timescales should be homogenized.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Titan's surface-atmosphere system bears remarkable similarities to Earth's, the most striking being an active, global methane cycle akin to Earth's water cycle. Like the hydrological cycle of Earth, Titan's seasonal methane cycle is driven by changes in the distribution of solar energy. The Cassini spacecraft, which arrived at Saturn in 2004 in the midst of northern winter and southern summer, has observed surface changes, including shoreline recession, at Titan's south pole and equator. However, active surface processes have yet to be confirmed in the lakes and seas in Titan's north polar region. As the 2017 northern summer solstice approaches, the onset of dynamic phenomena in this region is expected. Here we present the discovery of bright features in recent Cassini RADAR data that appeared in Titan's northern sea, Ligeia Mare, in July 2013 and disappeared in subsequent observations. We suggest that these bright features are best explained by the occurrence of ephemeral phenomena such as surface waves, rising bubbles, and suspended or floating solids. We suggest that our observations are an initial glimpse of dynamic processes that are commencing in the northern lakes and seas as summer nears in the northern hemisphere.
No preview · Article · Jun 2014 · Nature Geoscience
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The IVO mission would make multiple close encounters with Io while
orbiting Jupiter in an inclined elliptical orbit. The payload includes
narrow-angle and wide-angle cameras (NAC and WAC), dual fluxgate
magnetometers (FGM), a thermal mapper (ThM), dual ion and neutral mass
spectrometers (INMS), and dual plasma ion analyzers (PIA). The mission
is designed to answer key outstanding questions about Io, especially the
nature of the intense active volcanism and internal processes that drive
the volcanism. IVO can collect and return 20 Gb of compressed science
data per Io encounter, 100 times the total Io data return from the 8yr
No preview · Article · Jan 2014 · Acta Astronautica
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Cassini/RADAR high-resolution images of Titan's surface revealed linear features, geomorphologically similar to longitudinal dunes. Those dunes cover a large portion of the whole surface of Titan, i.e 7.8%, and 13.4% are present on the 58.4% of the surface imaged by the RADAR/SAR from July 2004 to July 2013 (fig.1). 99.6% of the dunes are confined at the equatorial regions (30°N-30°S). Formed and sculpted by the wind, those features represent clues for the understanding of the climatic history on the satellite. By using the joint analysis between RADAR/SAR observations and the infrared VIMS mosaic corrected for atmospheric contributions acquired through July 2013 and June 2010 respectively, we found a very high degree of correlation at global scale (more than 70%) between the RADAR dunes and a specific infrared VIMS spectral unit, the "dark brown unit". Some RADAR dunes, less than 2%, also belong in a commonly referenced unit, the "dark blue unit". These two units have been delimited by defining for each a specific set of spectral criteria. We have shown that those two units present a spectral behavior different, especially at short wavelengths (below 2 µm) allowing to say that the "dark brown unit" is dominated by organic sediment, similar to atmospheric aerosols, namely tholins, and the "dark blue" is most likely enriched in water ice compared to the rest of Titan's surface. Given the strong correlation between RADAR dunes and the infrared "dark brown unit" we are now able to extrapolate the total surface area of the dunes material to the total surface area of the "dark brown unit" which correspond to 17% of the Titan's surface. This permits to estimate the volume of sediment of 360,000 km3 (total mass ≈ 290,000 GT). Thus, these estimates based on the RADAR dunes/VIMS units correlation make the dune fields the largest organic reservoir on Titan's surface and characterize more precisely the composition of the dune material over the total extend of the dune regions.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Instruments on the Cassini spacecraft discovered new phenomena related
to the (presumably) seasonal behavior of photochemical haze and
formation of the winter polar vortex. West et al. 2011 (Geophys. Res.
Lett. , 380 , L06204. doi: 10.1029/2011GL046843) described a
‘detached’ haze layer that dropped in altitude from about
500 km in 2005 to about 360 km by late 2010. New images from the Cassini
ISS camera show that the appearance of a detached layer is produced by a
gap in the haze vertical profile and it is the gap rather than a haze
layer that drops in altitude. Intensity profiles from different epochs
form an envelope when plotted on top of each other, and the downward
movement of the gap can be most easily seen when plotted that way. The
movement of a gap rather than movement of a layer of enhanced haze
density was suspected in the earlier publication but now it is more
apparent. In recent months the gap became very shallow and the limb
intensity profiles at a pixel scale ~10 km/pixel evolved from one local
maximum/minimum into two local minima/maxima of smaller amplitude and
appear to be trending toward the disappearance of relative maxima and
minima, leaving a smooth envelope. These observations will require new
developments in coupled dynamical and haze microphysical models as none
of the current models account for this behavior. Titan’s south
polar vortex cloud was detected concurrently by the ISS, VIMS, and CIRS
instruments on Cassini in May of 2012. It has an unusual color (more
yellow than Titan’s main haze in ISS images), morphology and
texture (suggestive of a condensate cloud experiencing open cell
convection) and displays a spectral feature at 220 cm-1 (Jennings et
al., 2012, Astrophys. J. Lett. 761, L15 DOI:
10.1088/2041-8205/761/1/L15). These attributes point to a condensate of
unknown composition. The haze patch is seen in images up to the present
(July, 2013), but the latest images suggest a ‘softening’ or
more diffuse edge than the earlier images. The feature is being engulfed
by shadow as the season progresses, eventually preventing future
observations in reflected sunlight. Acknowledgement: Part of this work
was performed by the Jet Propulsion Lab, Calif. Inst. Of Technology.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The longevity of the Cassini mission, which has been orbiting the Saturn
system since 2004, has started to permit the generation of novel data
products that utilize overlapping radar observations of Titan. Repeat
observations allow investigations of temporal change, surface properties
via microwave backscatter modelling at SAR resolution, and the
generation of digital terrain models (DTMs). We will utilize these
capabilities to discuss constraints on the evolution of Titan's North
Polar Landscape. Discussion will include (1) implications of the absence
of observed temporal change in Northern lakes, (2) morphologic evidence
for dynamic base level changes separated by intermittent periods of
quiescence, (3) topographically closed depressions that imply karstic
collapse and/or dissolution processes, and (4) the identification of a
regionally common elevation amongst the floors of paleolake basins and
shorelines of Kraken, Ligeia, and Punga Mare.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Cassini RADAR SARtopo and altimetry data are used to construct a global gridded 1 × 1° elevation map, for use in Global Circulation Models, hydrological models and correlative studies. The data are sparse, and so most of the map domain (∼90%) is populated with interpolated values using a spline algorithm. The highest (∼+520 m) gridded point observed is at 48°S, 12°W. The lowest point observed (∼1700 m below a 2575 km sphere) is at 59°S, 317°W: this may be a basin where liquids presently in the north could have resided in the past. If the deepest point were once a sea with the areal extent of present-day Ligeia Mare, it would be ∼1000 m deep. We find four prominent topographic rises, each ∼200 km wide, radar-bright and heavily dissected, distributed over a ∼3000 km arc in the southeastern quadrant of Titan (∼40–60°S, 15–150°W).
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We present a comprehensive review of available crater topography measurements for Saturn’s moon Titan. In general, the depths of Titan’s craters are within the range of depths observed for similarly sized fresh craters on Ganymede, but several hundreds of meters shallower than Ganymede’s average depth vs. diameter trend. Depth-to-diameter ratios are between 0.0012 ± 0.0003 (for the largest crater studied, Menrva, D ∼ 425 km) and 0.017 ± 0.004 (for the smallest crater studied, Ksa, D ∼ 39 km). When we evaluate the Anderson–Darling goodness-of-fit parameter, we find that there is less than a 10% probability that Titan’s craters have a current depth distribution that is consistent with the depth distribution of fresh craters on Ganymede. There is, however, a much higher probability that the relative depths are uniformly distributed between 0 (fresh) and 1 (completely infilled). This distribution is consistent with an infilling process that is relatively constant with time, such as aeolian deposition. Assuming that Ganymede represents a close ‘airless’ analogue to Titan, the difference in depths represents the first quantitative measure of the amount of modification that has shaped Titan’s surface, the only body in the outer Solar System with extensive surface–atmosphere exchange.