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Titan Unveiled

Titan Unveiled: Saturn's Mysterious Moon Explored

With a new afterword by the authors Ralph Lorenz
Jacqueline Mitton
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Titan Unveiled
    Book Description:

    For twenty-five years following the Voyager mission, scientists speculated about Saturn's largest moon, a mysterious orb clouded in orange haze. Finally, in 2005, the Cassini-Huygens probe successfully parachuted down through Titan's atmosphere, all the while transmitting images and data. In the early 1980s, when the two Voyager spacecraft skimmed past Titan, Saturn's largest moon, they transmitted back enticing images of a mysterious world concealed in a seemingly impenetrable orange haze.Titan Unveiledis one of the first general interest books to reveal the startling new discoveries that have been made since the arrival of the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and Titan.

    Ralph Lorenz and Jacqueline Mitton take readers behind the scenes of this mission. Launched in 1997, Cassini entered orbit around Saturn in summer 2004. Its formidable payload included the Huygens probe, which successfully parachuted down through Titan's atmosphere in early 2005, all the while transmitting images and data--and scientists were startled by what they saw. One of those researchers was Lorenz, who gives an insider's account of the scientific community's first close encounter with an alien landscape of liquid methane seas and turbulent orange skies. Amid the challenges and frayed nerves, new discoveries are made, including methane monsoons, equatorial sand seas, and Titan's polar hood. Lorenz and Mitton describe Titan as a world strikingly like Earth and tell how Titan may hold clues to the origins of life on our own planet and possibly to its presence on others.

    Generously illustrated with many stunning images,Titan Unveiledis essential reading for anyone interested in space exploration, planetary science, or astronomy.

    A new afterword brings readers up to date on Cassini's ongoing exploration of Titan, describing the many new discoveries made since 2006.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3475-4
    Subjects: Physics, Astronomy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations and Tables
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiii)
    Ralph Lorenz and Jacqueline Mitton
  5. 1. The Lure of Titan
    (pp. 1-20)

    On July 1, 2004, theCassinispacecraft arrived at Saturn after a journey from Earth lasting almost seven years. At 6.8 m in length, this monstrous robotic explorer was the largest western spacecraft ever to be dispatched on an interplanetary mission. Its battery of scientific instruments was designed to return images and data not only from the giant planet itself and its spectacular ring system, but also from members of Saturn’s family of over fifty moons. Foremost in interest among the diverse collection of icy worlds in orbit around Saturn was Titan, a body so special, so intriguing in its...

  6. 2. Waiting for Cassini
    (pp. 21-66)

    Up to the 1990s, the pace of discovery about Titan had largely been slow and patchy, the high points being the flybys of theVoyagerspacecraft in 1980 and 1981, despite the disappointment of no surface features being detectable. But then, from the mid-1990s, the intensity of scientific activity directed toward Titan increased dramatically. This was not just in anticipation ofCassini’s arrival but was also a consequence of the impressive developments in telescopes and instruments of all types. As an intrinsically interesting and dynamic object, Titan was a natural target on which to focus with newfound capabilities and enhanced...

  7. 3. Cassini Arrives
    (pp. 67-100)

    It’s July 1, 2004, andCassini’s long trek to its destination is over. In just one hour and fifty-two minutes, the spacecraft will be closer to Saturn than at any other time during its mission. The engine burn that will curtailCassini’s interplanetary trajectory and deflect it into orbit around Saturn—Saturn Orbit Insertion, or SOI—is only minutes away. This burn will be the most critical event of the mission since launch. But first the spacecraft is crossing through the ring plane. To minimize the risk from a collision with a ring particle, it makes its passage through the...

  8. 4. Cassini’s First Taste of Titan
    (pp. 101-131)

    With the tension of orbit insertion behind them, the science teams could indulge in their last speculations about Titan and get to work on the first results fromCassini’s initial approach and the T0 flyby. A major conference, COSPAR, took place in Paris at the end of July 2004 where these early findings were presented. Presentations from most ofCassini’s instruments focused on Phoebe, Saturn, and the rings, but the optical remote sensing instruments, VIMS and ISS, had dramatically new perspectives on Titan, too.

    The ISS imager had a grandstand view of Titan’s south polar regions. Not only was the...

  9. 5. Landing on Titan
    (pp. 132-173)

    Darmstadt, a short distance south of Frankfurt and its massive airport, is an unobtrusive little German town, perhaps an unlikely home to the European Space Operations Center (ESOC). But this is where the data fromHuygenswere to be received, and in the week or so before the probe’s descent onto Titan on January 14, 2005, the science teams began to gather in anticipation.

    I am in my cluttered office in Tucson. I like to think with all the mountain of papers and books here that I am doing my bit for carbon sequestration, fending off global warming by at...

  10. 6. The Mission Goes On
    (pp. 174-210)

    Cassini’s encounters with Titan occur generally at intervals that are integer multiples of Titan’s orbital period of sixteen days. The gravity slingshots of the first encounters had broughtCassini’s orbital period down to twice that of Titan, and so the next encounter after the probe delivery on TC took place just a month after theHuygensdescent.

    Although in much of what follows, findings about specific locations were made with the VIMS and RADAR instruments, almost invariably where those locations were was substantially defined by the large-scale map generated from ISS images. As time went on, the map became progressively...

  11. 7. Where We Are and Where We Are Going
    (pp. 211-232)

    As we put the finishing touches to this final chapter, theCassinimission continues. But we have to draw a line somewhere and take stock even though new findings may be just around the corner—findings as thrilling and intriguing as those from the last Titan flyby we can include, T16 on July 22, 2006.

    Titan had seemed almost defiant in concealing evidence of present-day surface liquids. The Ontario feature seen optically near the south pole was compelling but not completely persuasive, and the RADAR look at the south pole on T7 had been thwarted. The models that suggested Titan’s...

  12. Afterword to the Paperback Edition
    (pp. 233-254)

    Since we completed the text of the hardcover edition ofTitan Unveiledin 2007, Titan has been a busy place, scientifically speaking. Not only hasCassinicontinued to make observations, but more and more scientists have been analyzing its data, pursuing related laboratory investigations, and working with computer models.

    A plot of the number of papers in refereed scientific journals with the word “Titan” in the title dramatically illustrates the heightened pace of activity when compared with the same data for Jupiter’s moon Europa, another solar system object that attracts considerable interest. A decade ago Titan merited only a single...

    (pp. 255-256)
  14. Further Reading
    (pp. 257-260)
  15. Index
    (pp. 261-265)