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Earthdate 2003-10-29

Titanic Speculars

The 2003.10.17 issue of the journal Science has an article “The Glitter of Distant Seas,” reporting the results of the recent Arecibo/Green Bank radio telescopes' radaring of Saturn's giant moon Titan.  As the article reports: 1

Planetary alignments now expose Saturn's giant, haze-shrouded moon Titan to the recently upgraded 300-m Arecibo radar dish.  Campbell et al. have used this dish to blast Titan with hundreds of kilowatts of microwave power.  As they report on page 431 of this issue, 2 hours later they received a faint echo at the rebuilt 100-m Green Bank radio telescope.  Because the results have a much higher signal-to-noise ratio than previous efforts with smaller dishes, they carry much more information.  The results confirm that Titan is like nowhere else in the solar system.  […]

[T]he most striking feature in the new radar data: the transient sharp spikes in the reflected spectrum, which suggest specular reflections (see the figure) from smooth, dark areas 50 to 150 km across.

“Specular reflections” are like the bright image/reflection of the sun off the ocean in views of the earth from space.

These features may be impact craters — of which, extrapolating from other saturnian moons, one might expect around 80 with a diameter of 150 km and thousands of smaller ones — that have filled to form [hydrocarbon] lakes and seas.  The radar data suggest that as much as 75% of Titan's surface could be covered in this way.

The Cassini spacecraft arrives in the Saturnian system in “just” 12 months (2004.10). When I think how fiercely the Luddites fought — and how close they may have come to canceling — that mission, well I'm afraid my hands reflexively close as if to strangle (or wring) some necks.
 
 

Reference

1 Ralph Lorenz, “The Glitter of Distant Seas,” Science, Vol. 302, Issue 5644 (2003.10.17), pp. 403-404 (requires subscription or pay-per-view).  Published online 2003.10.02 (10.1126/science.1090464).
 

UPDATE:  2003.11.02 17:00 UT.  After Impearls' reader Mike Daley forwarded the above posting on to him, Joe Katzman at Winds of Change posted a link and commented, “If [Cassini] should find distant seas in the far reaches of our solar system — well, that would be something wouldn't it?”  Indeed it would.



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