After taking spectacular close-ups of Saturn and its rings, the Cassini spacecraft turned its attention to Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Using imaging radar, the spacecraft peered through Titan's smog blanket--its thick orange atmosphere, consisting primarily of nitrogen and trace amounts of at least a dozen kinds of organic compounds, extends hundreds of kilometers above the surface. Making its closest approach of 1,200 kilometers on October 26, Cassini was able to resolve features down to 300 meters across while traveling at 21,800 kilometers per hour. It mapped roughly 1 percent of a satellite world larger than either Mercury or Pluto.
The images returned so far have astonished scientists. Cassini has not detected any signs of the long-predicted gasolinelike seas of methane, propane or butane that are speculated to be as much as three kilometers deep. But investigators were quick to point out that the data did not preclude their existence, either. Perhaps more surprising, Cassini found hardly any evidence of impact craters. The lack of craters suggests that Titan, made of equal parts water ice and rocky matter, is continuously reshaping itself.
This article was originally published with the title Through Titan's Haze.