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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2005 > May > May 27

Odd Spot on Titan Baffles Scientists

From: Colin Stevenson <colsweb.nul>
Date: Fri, 27 May 2005 02:59:45 +0100 (BST)
Fwd Date: Fri, 27 May 2005 10:50:59 -0400
Subject: Odd Spot on Titan Baffles Scientists


Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations
Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

News Release: 2005-086

May 25, 2005

Carolina Martinez (818) 354-9382
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Lori Stiles (520) 626-4402
University of Arizona News Service, Tucson

Preston Dyches (720) 974-5859


Odd Spot on Titan Baffles Scientists

Saturnís moon Titan shows an unusual bright spot that has
scientists mystified.  The spot, approximately the size and
shape of West Virginia, is just southeast of the bright region
called Xanadu and is visible to multiple instruments on the
Cassini spacecraft.

The 483-kilometer-wide (300-mile) region may be a "hot" spot -
an area possibly warmed by a recent asteroid impact or by a
mixture of water ice and ammonia from a warm interior, oozing
out of an ice volcano onto colder surrounding terrain.  Other
possibilities for the unusual bright spot include landscape
features holding clouds in place or unusual materials on the
surface.

"At first glance, I thought the feature looked strange, almost
out of place," said Dr. Robert H. Brown, team leader of the
Cassini visual and infrared mapping spectrometer and professor
at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona,
Tucson. "After thinking a bit, I speculated that it was a hot
spot. In retrospect, that might not be the best hypothesis. But
the spot is no less intriguing."

The Cassini spacecraft flew by Titan on March 31 and April 16.
 Its visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, using the
longest, reddest wavelengths that the spectrometer sees,
observed the spot, the brightest area ever observed on Titan.

Cassini's imaging cameras saw a bright, 550-kilometer-wide (345-
mile) semi-circle at visible wavelengths at this same location
on Cassini's December 2004 and February 2005 Titan flybys. "It
seems clear that both instruments are detecting the same basic
feature on or controlled by Titan's surface," said Dr. Alfred S.
McEwen, Cassini imaging team scientist, also of the University
of Arizona. "This bright patch may be due to an impact event,
landslide, cryovolcanism or atmospheric processes. Its distinct
color and brightness suggest that it may have formed relatively
recently."

Other bright spots have been seen on Titan, but all have been
transient features that move or disappear within hours, and have
different spectral (color) properties than this feature.  This
spot is persistent in both its color and location.  "It's
possible that the visual and infrared spectrometer is seeing a
cloud that is topographically controlled by something on the
surface, and that this weird, semi-circular feature is causing
this cloud," said Dr. Elizabeth Turtle, Cassini imaging team
associate, also from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

"If the spot is a cloud, then its longevity and stability imply
that it is controlled by the surface. Such a cloud might result
from airflow across low mountains or outgassing caused by
geologic activity," said Jason Barnes, a postdoctoral researcher
working with the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team
at the University of Arizona.

The spot could be reflected light from a patch of terrain made
up of some exotic surface material. "Titan's surface seems to be
mostly dirty ice. The bright spot might be a region with
different surface composition, or maybe a thin surface deposit
of non-icy material," Barnes added.

Scientists have also considered that the spot might be
mountains.  If so, they'd have to be much higher than the 100-
meter-high (300-foot) hills Cassini's radar altimeter has seen
so far. Scientists doubt that Titan's crust could support such
high mountains.

The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team will be able
to test the hot spot hypothesis on the July 2, 2006, Titan
flyby, when they take nighttime images of the same area. If the
spot glows at night, researchers will know it's hot.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens

mission visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

and

http://www.nasa.gov/cassini

For additional images visit the visual and infrared
mapping spectrometer page at:

http://wwwvims.lpl.arizona.edu

and the Cassini imaging team homepage

http://ciclops.org


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 visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team is
based at the University of Arizona. The imaging team is based at
the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Co.




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