The method of radar scanning, used usually to measure the density of snow caps at the poles of the Earth, was used to analyze the state of the surface of the methane seas of the largest satellite of the planet Saturn, Titan. As a result of the analysis, the scientists found out that the surface of Titan is “close to a mirror”. Perhaps for those who once hoped to curb the wave of hydrocarbons on their surfboard, this is bad news, but different for astronomers, because in the future this can simplify the choice for landing a research probe on a satellite. Do not have to worry about dangerous waves and wind that could damage the research apparatus.
Measurement work was carried out by a team of researchers from the United States using radar statistical reconnaissance and included analysis of data collected by the Cassini spacecraft over the seas of Ligeia, Kraken and Punga located in the northern hemisphere of the satellite.
Earlier, the same method proved to be very useful and effective in measuring the ice density of Antarctica and the Arctic, and also when choosing a potential landing site for the NASA InSight space mission on the Martian surface, which allowed the specialists of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to suggest that the method would be useful In the study of the liquid tears of Titan.
Interest in Titan is quite understandable, since this is the only place in the solar system (besides the Earth, of course), where liquid is on the surface of the planetary object. Of course, in general, the super-cold seas and lakes of the satellite consist of hydrocarbons such as methane and ethane, rather than warm tropical water, but is it especially important in such a situation?
Even if we discard the fact that the volume of hydrocarbon on the satellite is several hundred times higher than that of fossil fuels on our planet, the diversity of organic materials in these seas may indicate the likelihood of having a life-appropriate chemistry. In addition, the satellite has a very dense hydrogen atmosphere and, quite likely, even has a weather system in which hydrocarbon rains are present.
Between 2007 and 2015, the Cassini spacecraft collected a huge amount of data on Titan’s radio scanning, on the basis of which a very detailed map of the satellite’s seas was constructed, the surface of which, as the last analysis shows, is almost as smooth as glass.
The new study offers a fresh look at the approximate state of the surface texture, confirming that there are still waves in the seas of Titan, but very tiny, which in turn allows us to draw some conclusions about the winds of the satellite.
“There is a great desire to drop research probes once there. And to be sure that this will really work, you need to make sure that the landing for the probes will be safe. In this case, you do not need powerful winds at all, “says the lead researcher Cyril Grima of the University of Texas Geophysics.
Grima calculated that at the time of observation by the Cassini spacecraft, the height of waves on the surface of the seas averaged about 6-10 millimeters with a length of 45-115 millimeters and angles of inclination from 1.1 to 2.4 degrees. For a larger “extreme”, as the data show, landing should be made at the Punga Sea, where the angle of the wave can reach as much as 5 degrees.
In general, apparently, the weather on Titan can hardly be called harsh.
“Our study shows that the waves on the seas of Titan are very weak. Probably because there is practically no wind there either, “Grima says.
Waves on lakes and oceans of the Earth are mainly caused by the movement of air currents, which, in contact with the water surface, transmit kinetic energy to its particles. The movement of air masses is the result of convective movement of air, caused by the heat of sunlight, which heats some areas of the Earth’s surface more strongly than others. Titanium, in turn, receives much less sunlight, has a dense cloud cover, so the relative lack of heat can explain such quiet conditions on its surface. In addition, molecules and particles of liquid hydrocarbons interact with each other in a different way.
Titan can not be called a dead companion. It certainly has a lot of interesting things. But since this is a very cold place, all the processes on it are somewhat slowed down. Therefore, even the presence of a small ripple on the surface of its seas is very interesting news for scientists.