These incredible views of Titan’s surface are the culmination of 13 years of data collected by the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) onboard NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Here’s another look.
NASA says this collection of images is our best look yet at how Titan might appear to us if it were not for the thick yellow haze shrouding the surface. And with no spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn, it’s the best look we are going to get for a while.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen images captured by the VIMS instrument. Here’s a trio of older mosaics showing the moon’s surface.
All three (but especially the right image) have a pixelated look to them. This is because the data used to create the mosaics were gathered over many flybys as Cassini made its trek through the Saturn system. Different angles, different lighting, and different atmospheric conditions make it difficult to combine them into clear mosaics.
In this new set of images, Cassini’s imaging team painstakingly analyzed the data and crafted the mosaics by hand. The results are stunning. The visible seams seen in older images are gone.
The techniques used to get the seamless images also show off what NASA describes as “subtle spectral variations in the materials on Titan’s surface.” Titan’s dune fields appear brown, while the bluish/purple areas are believed to represent areas rich in water ice.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft wrapped up its Grand Finale last September when it plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere after spending more than a decade exploring. Almost a year later and the data gathered is still being put to good use. Now we need to get a dedicated mission to Titan. And we might just get it.
Dragonfly is a proposed mission to Titan that would put a lander on the surface that could perform vertical takeoffs and landings (basically a Titan drone). The mission was one of two finalists NASA selected last December for the space agency’s next New Frontiers mission (New Horizons and Juno are also part of New Frontiers). A final selection is expected in 2019. If selected Dragonfly will begin its trek to Titan in the mid-2020s.