May 30th, 2006 10:22 EST
Cassini Spacecraft Snaps Titan and Saturn's Rings
Saturn's largest moon, Titan, peaks out from under the planet's rings of ice.
This view looks toward Titan (5,150 kilometers, or 3,200 miles across) from slightly beneath the ringplane. The dark Encke gap (325 kilometers, or 200 miles wide) is visible here, as is the narrow F ring.
Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this natural color view. The images were taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on April 28, 2006 at a distance of approximately 1.8 million kilometers (1.1 million miles) from Titan. Image scale is 11 kilometers (7 miles) per pixel on Titan.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.
Despite centuries of speculation and decades of research, scientists are still seeking fundamental clues to the question of how life began on Earth. Titan [TIE-tun] is the frozen vault that may contain these secrets for the Cassini-Huygens mission to discover.
Titan is the largest of Saturn's moons, bigger than the planets Mercury and Pluto.
The study of Titan is one of the major goals of the Cassini-Huygens mission because it may preserve, in deep-freeze, many of the chemical compounds that preceded life on Earth.
Long hidden behind a thick veil of haze, Titan is the only moon in the solar system that possesses a dense atmosphere (10 times denser than Earth's). The fact that this atmosphere is rich in organic material and that living organisms as we know them are composed of organic material is particularly intriguing. "Organic" means only that the material is carbon-based, and does not necessarily imply any connection to living organisms.
The story of Titan is gradually unfolding. Titan is a dynamic place with complex geologic processes. The lack of many craters indicates that Titan's surface may be relatively young, because Earth-like processes of tectonics, erosion, winds, and perhaps volcanism, shape its surface. Though hazy, Titan's atmosphere is relatively cloud-free. Contrary to popular belief that liquid methane and ethane oceans would collect on its surface, no evidence has been found so far for large lakes of liquids.
Cassini will execute 45 flybys of Titan, some of them only several hundred kilometers from its surface. The European Space Agency's Huygens probe, which pierced Titan's thick-dense haze, was dedicated to the study of Titan's atmosphere. The probe actually survived for several hours on the surface and returned stunning images.
For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov . The Cassini imaging team homepage is at http://ciclops.org .
Credit:NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute