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Posted by / 06-Dec-2017 03:54

Dating planetary surfaces

Flowing liquid hydrocarbons at Titan make for eerily Earthlike landscapes -- they carve branching channels and steep canyons into rock-hard ice; they settle into lakes and seas with gently sloping shorelines and sheltered bays; they tumble water-ice “rocks” into rounded pebble shapes like those in earthly rivers.Titan’s landscape also shares other similarities with Earth.Cassini and ESA’s Huygens probe (which landed on Titan’s surface) found clear evidence for a global ocean of water beneath Titan’s thick, icy crust and an atmosphere teeming with prebiotic chemicals.

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, offered tantalizing hints that it, too, could help us understand whether life could have evolved elsewhere.The four seasons of Saturn's year last about seven Earth years apiece, and upon Cassini's arrival at Saturn, the planet's northern hemisphere was just beginning to emerge from winter.Following its initial, four-year tour, Cassini's mission was extended two more years, to enable the spacecraft to observe changes -- particularly in the rings -- as Saturn reached equinox and the Sun shone edge-on to the rings.In complement to Huygens' dazzling revelations about Titan, the Cassini orbiter performed 127 of its own close flybys of Titan (with many more distant encounters).By the end of its mission, the Cassini spacecraft had observed almost half of a Saturn year, which is 29 Earth years long.

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After equinox, Cassini was granted an additional seven-year extension.