This near-infrared, color mosaic from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows the sun glinting off of Titan's north polar seas. While Cassini has captured, separately, views of the polar seas (see PIA17470) and the sun glinting off of them (see PIA12481 and PIA18433) in the past, this is the first time both have been seen together in the same view.
The sunglint, also called a specular reflection, is the bright area near the 11 o'clock position at upper left. This mirror-like reflection, known as the specular point, is in the south of Titan's largest sea, Kraken Mare, just north of an island archipelago separating two separate parts of the sea.
This particular sunglint was so bright as to saturate the detector of Cassini's Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) instrument, which captures the view. It is also the sunglint seen with the highest observation elevation so far -- the sun was a full 40 degrees above the horizon as seen from Kraken Mare at this time -- much higher than the 22 degrees seen in PIA18433. Because it was so bright, this glint was visible through the haze at much lower wavelengths than before, down to 1.3 microns.
The southern portion of Kraken Mare (the area surrounding the specular feature toward upper left) displays a "bathtub ring" -- a bright margin of evaporate deposits -- which indicates that the sea was larger at some point in the past and has become smaller due to evaporation. The deposits are material left behind after the methane & ethane liquid evaporates, somewhat akin to the saline crust on a salt flat.
The highest resolution data from this flyby -- the area seen immediately to the right of the sunglint -- cover the labyrinth of channels that connect Kraken Mare to another large sea, Ligeia Mare. Ligeia Mare itself is partially covered in its northern reaches by a bright, arrow-shaped complex of clouds. The clouds are made of liquid methane droplets, and could be actively refilling the lakes with rainfall.
The view was acquired during Cassini's August 21, 2014, flyby of Titan, also referred to as "T104" by the Cassini team.
The view contains real color information, although it is not the natural color the human eye would see. Here, red in the image corresponds to 5.0 microns, green to 2.0 microns, and blue to 1.3 microns. These wavelengths correspond to atmospheric windows through which Titan's surface is visible. The unaided human eye would see nothing but haze, as in PIA12528.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The VIMS team is based at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
More information about Cassini is available at http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Idaho
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Hubble Sees 'Ghost Light' From Dead Galaxies
Thu, 30 Oct 2014 13:00:00 -0400
The universe is an infinite sea of galaxies, which are majestic star-cities. When
galaxies group together in massive clusters, some of them can be ripped apart
by the gravitational tug of other galaxies. It's a giant cosmic mosh pit.
Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope to probe the massive galaxy cluster Abell 2744 nicknamed Pandora's Cluster have found forensic evidence of galaxies torn
apart long ago. It's in the form of a phantom-like faint glow filling the space
between the galaxies. This glow comes from stars scattered into intergalactic
space as a result of a galaxy's disintegration.
Here's Looking At You: Spooky Shadow Play Gives Jupiter a Giant Eye
Tue, 28 Oct 2014 10:00:00 -0400
The Hubble Space Telescope treats astronomers to gorgeous close-up views of the eerie outer planets.
But it's a bit of a trick when it seems like the planet's looking back at you! In this
view, the shadow of the Jovian moon Ganymede swept across the center of the
Great Red Spot a giant storm on the planet. This gave Jupiter the uncanny
appearance of having a pupil in the center of a 10,000-mile-diameter "eye." Now
if it blinks, we may really have to worry!
Ambition - Read more >
Fri, 24 Oct 2014 16:40:00 +0200
How Rosetta is turning science fiction into science fact
Close Encounters: Comet Siding Spring Seen Next to Mars
Thu, 23 Oct 2014 12:00:00 -0400
This is a photo composite of the encounter of Comet Siding Spring with Mars on October 19, 2014. Separate Hubble Space Telescope images of Mars and the comet have been combined together into a single picture. This is a composite
image because a single exposure of the stellar background, Comet Siding Spring, and Mars would be problematic because the objects are all moving with respect to each other and the background stars. Hubble can only track one planetary
target at a time. Also, Mars is actually 10,000 times brighter than the comet, and the exposure here has been adjusted so that details on the Red Planet can be
Herschel's Comet - Read more >
Fri, 17 Oct 2014 17:30:00 +0200
A month before retiring in 2013, Herschel took a look at Comet Siding Spring. The comet is now heading for a close encounter with Mars on Sunday
Hubble Finds Extremely Distant Galaxy through Cosmic Magnifying Glass
Thu, 16 Oct 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Peering through a giant cosmic magnifying glass, NASA's Hubble Space
Telescope has spotted one of the farthest, faintest, and smallest galaxies
ever seen. The diminutive object is estimated to be more than 13 billion light-years away. This new detection is considered one of the most reliable distance
measurements of a galaxy that existed in the early universe, said the Hubble
researchers. Hubble detected the galaxy due to the lensing power of the mammoth galaxy
cluster Abell 2744, nicknamed Pandora's Cluster. The cluster is so massive that
its powerful gravity bends the light from galaxies far behind it, making the background objects
appear larger and brighter in a phenomenon called gravitational lensing.
Name Rosetta mission’s landing site - Read more >
Thu, 16 Oct 2014 16:00:00 +0200
ESA and its Rosetta mission partners are inviting you to suggest a name for the site where lander Philae will touch down on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on 12 November.
NASA's Hubble Telescope Finds Potential Kuiper Belt Targets for New Horizons Pluto Mission
Wed, 15 Oct 2014 13:00:00 -0400
The Kuiper Belt is a vast disk of icy debris left over from our Sun's formation 4.6
billion years ago. Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) are a unique class of solar-system body
that has never been visited by interplanetary spacecraft. They contain well-preserved
clues to the origin of our solar system. NASA's New Horizons probe will fly by Pluto in
mid-2015 and then continue across the Kuiper Belt on its way toward interstellar space.
The Hubble Space Telescope was used to do a deep sky survey to identify KBOs that the New
Horizons spacecraft could potentially visit on its outbound trajectory. The deep sky
survey was successful, and Hubble found targetable KBOs for New Horizons.
Hubble Maps the Temperature and Water Vapor on an Extreme Exoplanet
Thu, 09 Oct 2014 14:00:00 -0400
Located 260 light-years away, exoplanet WASP-43b is no place to call home. It is
a world of extremes, where seething winds howl at the speed of sound from a
3,000-degree-Fahrenheit day side, hot enough to melt steel, to a pitch-black night side with plunging temperatures below 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The Hubble Space Telescope has been used to make the most detailed global map yet of the thermal glow
from this turbulent world. The astronomers were also able to map temperatures
at different layers of the world's atmosphere and traced the amount and
distribution of water vapor. The Jupiter-sized planet lies so close to its orange
dwarf host star that it completes an orbit in just 19 hours. The planet is also
gravitationally locked so that it keeps one hemisphere facing the star.
NASA Telescopes Find Clear Skies and Water Vapor on Exo-Neptune
Wed, 24 Sep 2014 13:00:00 -0400
The weather forecast for a planet 120 light-years from Earth is clear skies and
steamy water vapor. Finding clear skies on a gaseous world the size of Neptune
is a good sign that even smaller, Earth-size planets might have similarly good
visibility. This would allow earthbound astronomers to measure the underlying
atmospheric composition of an exoplanet. Astronomers using the Hubble, Spitzer,
and Kepler space telescopes were able to determine that the planet, cataloged
HAT-P-11b, has water vapor in its atmosphere. The world is definitely steamy
with temperatures over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The planet is so hot because
it orbits so close to its star, completing one orbit every five days.
Hubble Helps Find Smallest Known Galaxy with a Supermassive Black Hole
Wed, 17 Sep 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Astronomers have found an unlikely object in an improbable place: a monster
black hole lurking inside one of the tiniest galaxies known. The dwarf galaxy
containing the black hole is the densest galaxy ever seen, cramming 140 million
stars within a diameter of about 300 light-years (just 1/500th of our Milky Way
galaxy's diameter). However, the black hole inside the galaxy is five times the
mass of the black hole at the center of our Milky Way. This suggests that the
dwarf galaxy may actually be the stripped remnant of a larger galaxy that was
torn apart during a close encounter with a more massive galaxy. The finding
implies that there are many other compact galaxies in the universe that contain
supermassive black holes.
Hubble Finds Companion Star Hidden for 21 Years in a Supernova's Glare
Tue, 09 Sep 2014 13:00:00 -0400
For over two decades astronomers have been patiently monitoring the fading
glow of a supernova in a nearby galaxy. They've been looking for a suspected
companion star that pulled off almost all of the hydrogen from the doomed star that
exploded. At last Hubble's ultraviolet-light sensitivity pulled out the blue glow of
the star from the cluttered starlight in the disk of the galaxy. This observation
confirms the theory that the supernova originated in a double-star system where
one star fueled the mass-loss from the aging primary star. The surviving star's
brightness and estimated mass provide insight into the conditions that preceded
the 1993 explosion.
Unveiling Venus - Read more >
Fri, 16 May 2014 15:00:00 +0200
Highlights from ESA’s Venus Express, following end of routine science observations after eight years orbiting the veiled planet