Like many a robotic planetary mission, you've gotta love the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn – a joint effort between NASA and the European Space Agency. It launched in 1997 and for the past six years (yes, it took some time to get there), Cassini has been the gift that keeps on giving.
Saturn's largest moon, Titan, continues to be one of Cassini's most intriguing targets. It's the only planetary satellite with a thick atmosphere – a hydrocarbon haze that makes a smoggy day in Los Angeles look crystal clear by comparison. And although it's a cold moon, with lakes of liquid methane, Titan has many of the compounds that on Earth were the building blocks for organic life. It's high on the list of "let's go back" destinations among astrobiologists.
So far, Cassdini has performed 73 flybys of Titan, including eight this year. Here are some of this year's eye-popping discoveries associated with Cassini's observations of Titan.
In May, scientists reported the detection of sunlight glinting off Kraken Mare, a Caspian Sea-size lake of liquid hydrocarbons near Titan's north pole. To be sure, planetary scientists had posited that Titan was home to liquid-hydrocarbon lakes or seas. And scientists had seen one lake in the south pole region giving the same indication, via Cassini's Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer. But only as the Titanian summer was coming to the north did the evidence show up at those latitudes, where lakes are thought to be more numerous than in the south.
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