Having 1600 miles (2576 km) across, Titan is Saturn’s largest satellite and the second largest satellite in the Solar System. It is also the only world except the Earth, where in large quantities a liquid was found on the surface, manifested in the form of lakes and streams of methane and ethane. This makes Titan a very intriguing place to study planetary scientists, but unfortunately it’s not so easy to get a good image of its surface because of the thick orange clouds and dense atmosphere.
Even NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, orbiting Saturn since 2004, can only get a teasing hint at the intriguing details of Titan’s surface through its clouds using infrared and radar observations, none of which are perceived by the human eye. In particular, the Cassini thermal imager called “Synthetic Aperture Radar” is great for capturing images of the surface, penetrating the clouds of the satellite, but its photos are distorted and can be misleading.
Now, researchers have developed a new method that will help smooth out Cassini's radar images, giving scientists the opportunity to take a fresh look at Titan.
The prospect of the coastline of Kraken Mare - the largest lake on Titan.
The image above shows a section of Ligei Mare - the second largest liquid hydrocarbon lake on Titan. The surface of the lake is very smooth and uniform and looks dark on the radar, and the surrounding coastline and landscape are less uniform and appear as different shades of gray.
The left image was taken as a result of radar observations: quite sharp, but very grainy. The right snapshot underwent special processing called “despeckling”, retaining important information when removing distracting noises.
"This new technology provides a fresh look at the data that helps us better understand the original images," said Stephen Wall, deputy head of the Cassini radar team at NASA's Passenger Cycle Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Through this innovative method, we will look for details that will help us distinguish between the processes that form the surface of Titan."
The combination of height measurement data and elevation maps will help us create accurate 3D maps of Titan's surface.