Cassini spacecraft Current Affairs - 2020

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Liquid methane spotted on Titan moon of Saturn

Using data obtained by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, scientists have found that Saturn’s largest moon Titan has small liquid lakes that run more than 100 metres deep, perched atop hills and filled with methane.

What are the Findings?

The findings published in the journal titled Nature Astronomy make the following observations:

  • Titan has landforms akin to Mesas towering above the nearby landscape, topped with liquid lakes more than 300 feet deep comprised mainly of methane.
  • Scientists suspect the lakes were formed when surrounding bedrock chemically dissolved and collapsed a process which occurs with a certain type of lake on Earth.
  • The scientists also observed “phantom lakes” on Titan that during wintertime appeared to be wide but shallow ponds but perhaps were only a few inches deep and evaporated or drained into the surface by springtime, a process taking seven years on Titan.
  • The findings also presented evidence about Titan’s hydrological cycle, with liquid hydrocarbons raining down from clouds, flowing across its surface and evaporating back into the sky which is comparable to Earth’s water cycle.
  • Scientists suspect Titan could potentially could harbour life possibly in the surface bodies of liquid hydrocarbons because of Titan’s complex chemistry and distinctive environments.

Titan which is the moon of Saturn has a diameter of 5,150 km and is the solar system’s second largest moon, behind only Jupiter’s Ganymede. It is bigger than the planet Mercury.

Titan is the most Earth-like body in the solar system. It has lakes, canyons, rivers, dune fields of organic sand particles about the same size as silica sand grains on Earth.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft to make final observations of Saturn

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft after studying Saturn, its rings and moons for more than 12 years, has entered in the final year of its epic voyage.

In its epic voyage, the Cassini spacecraft will make the closest-ever observations of the planet. Beginning November 30, 2016 Cassini will make the closest-ever observations of Saturn.

During the final voyage

  • Cassini will be mapping the Saturn’s magnetic and gravity fields with exquisite precision. It will be returning ultra-close views of the Saturn’s atmosphere.
  • Its orbit will be just past the outer edge of the main rings of Saturn. These orbits will be in a series of 20 which are called the F-ring orbits.
  • Cassini will approach to within 7,800 kilometres of the centre of the narrow F ring with its peculiar kinked and braided structure during these weekly orbits.

About Cassini–Huygens

  • Cassini–Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft sent to the planet Saturn. It is a sophisticated robotic spacecraft orbiting the ringed planet and studying Saturnian system in detail.
  • It is a joint endeavor of NASA, European Space Agency (ESA) and Italian space agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI).
  • Cassini is the 4th space probe to visit Saturn and the 1st to enter successfully in its orbit and its mission is ongoing as of 2016.
  • Its design includes a Saturn orbiter (Cassini) and a lander (Huygens) for the moon Titan. They are named after astronomers Giovanni Cassini and Christiaan Huygens.
  • The spacecraft was launched on 15 October 1997 aboard a Titan IVB/Centaur and it had entered orbit around Saturn on 1 July 2004.
  • On 25 December 2004, Huygens lander had separated from orbiter and landed on Saturn’s moon Titan on 14 January 2005. This was the first landing ever accomplished in the outer Solar System.