Taking organic inventory from dunes on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, to uncover more information about its wind system and climate. The researchers are studying the historic environment, its current features, and how it may change in the future.
Start Date: June 6, 2012
End Date: June 5, 2015
Contract Terms: Funded by NASA
- Principal Investigator: Jani Radebaugh
As part of NASA’s Outer Planets Research Program, Professor Jani Radebaugh is currently studying Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. She is measuring dunes to understand more about Titan’s past and present climate, including winds. Compared to the rest of Titan, the sand dunes are relatively young, allowing them to inform researchers in regards to current climate processes. These measurements will then be used to hypothesize about Titan’s surface climate. The three original aims are to use dunes to 1) quantify regional and global wind orientations, 2) determine the history of Titan’s dunes, and 3) produce a database map of Titan’s dunes. Overall this study increases understanding of Titan’s organic sediments, and the movement over time caused by wind systems. This study will be carried out by using a unique combined dataset with a variety of satellite photos (Cassini SAR and Cassini ISS images) to measure the sand dunes on Titan’s surfaces. Cassini is a satellite that was originally launched in 1997 to study Saturn, and has made several consequent trips since its original voyage. It has landed on Titan, as well as other orbs surrounding Saturn. This study builds on previous work that was done by professors at the University of Paris, who used similar SAR and VIMS data.
A NASA imaging system is being used to compile a layered map of Titan’s dunes. There is a corresponding database that logs each dune’s width, space, height, and spacing from surrounding dunes. This improves on previous lower resolution images, although there is still much information that will need to be added to the maps and corresponding database. This data has been used to inform estimations on the sand volume in Titan’s seas. This global map and database has further allowed for statistical analysis, comparing data across Titan’s dunes. Understanding the dunes on Titan’s surface has also led to an examination of what appears to be solidified dunes, and climate behaviors in Titan’s equatorial region. These findings will be published in the science community in the coming year.
The compilation of Titan’s climate information to one map and database will allow for future inquiry into Titan’s atmospheric processes, organic material, and the origin and evolution of the moon. This is directly related to two of NASA’s goals: 1) understanding the origin and evolution of the solar system, and 2) improving our understanding of Titan to determine its habitability.