A mosaic of nine processed images recently acquired during Cassini's first very close flyby of Saturn's moon Titan on October 26, 2004 constitutes the most detailed full-disk view yet made of the mysterious moon.
The view is centered on 15 degrees South latitude, and 156 degrees West longitude (See PIA06086). Brightness variations across the surface and bright clouds near the south pole are easily seen. The mosaic is actually a map projection that is designed to simulate a view a very distant observer would have of Titan.
The images that comprise the mosaic have been processed to reduce the effects of the atmosphere and to sharpen surface features. The mosaic has been trimmed to show only the illuminated surface and not the atmosphere above the edge of the solid surface. The sun was behind Cassini so nearly the full disk is illuminated. Pixels scales of the composite images vary from 2 to 4 km/pixel (1.2 to 2.5 miles/pixel).
Surface features are best seen near the center of the disk, where the spacecraft is looking directly downwards; the contrast becomes progressively lower and surface features become fuzzier towards the outside, where the spacecraft is peering through longer path lengths of haze, a circumstance that washes out surface features.
The brighter region on the right side and equatorial region is named Xanadu Regio. Scientists are actively debating what processes may have created the bizarre surface brightness patterns seen here. The images hint at a young surface: ie, no obvious craters are seen on Titan. However, the exact nature of that activity (tectonic, wind-blown, fluvial, marine, volcanic, etc.) is still to be determined.
The images comprising this mosaic were acquired from distances ranging from 650,000 km (400,000 miles) to 300,000 km (200,000 miles). The processing followed that used to sharpen Titan images (see PIA #06125).
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The imaging team consists of scientists from the US, England, France, and Germany. The imaging operations center and team lead (Dr. C. Porco) are based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.