Plains of Titan to be Named for “Dune” Novels

by Nancy Atkinson on August 4, 2009

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Chusuk Planitia on Titan.  Credit: USGS

Chusuk Planitia on Titan. Credit: USGS



Titan’s mysterious dark plains will be named after planets in the series of “Dune” science fiction novels by author Frank Herbert. The US Geological Survey Astrogeology Science Center announced the first plain or “planitia” given a name will be designated as Chusuk Planitia. Chusuk was a planet from the Dune series, known for its musical instruments. Chusuk Planitia on Titan is located at 5.0S, 23.5W, and in the picture here is the small, dark area next to the “C” of Chusuk.

Download a large map of Titan with the named features (pdf file).

The Cassini spacecraft has enabled us to finally see these dark plains on Titan. This moon is enveloped by an orange haze of naturally produced photochemical smog that frustratingly obscured its surface prior to Cassini’s arrival. Since 2004, the spacecraft’s observations have taken the study of this unique world into a whole new dimension.

Crescent Titan. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute



One of Cassini’s latest images of Titan looks down on the north pole of Titan, showing night and day in the northern hemisphere of Saturn’s largest moon.

This view is centered on terrain at 49 degrees north latitude, 243 degrees west longitude. The north pole of Titan is rotated about 23 degrees to the left and it lies on the terminator above and to the left of the center of the image. Titan is 5,150 kilometers, or 3,200 miles across.

This natural color image was created by combining images taken with red, green and blue spectral filters. The images were obtained with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on June 6, 2009 at a distance of approximately 194,000 kilometers (121,000 miles) from Titan. Image scale is 11 kilometers (7 miles) per pixel.

Titan is one of the most Earth-like world we have found in our solar system. With its thick atmosphere and organic-rich chemistry, Titan resembles a frozen version of Earth, several billion years ago, before life began pumping oxygen into our atmosphere.

Cassini has revealed that Titan’s surface is shaped by rivers and lakes of liquid ethane and methane which forms clouds and occasionally rains from the sky as water does on Earth. Winds sculpt vast regions of dark, hydrocarbon-rich dunes and plains around Titan’s equator and low latitudes.

Source: USGS, Cassini website.

Hat tip to Emily Lakdawalla!

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

PolishBear August 5, 2009 at 7:14 AM

Mount Caladan
Lake Gom-Jabbar
The Harkonnen Plateau
The possibilities are endless.

Astrofiend August 5, 2009 at 12:25 AM

Nice! Good to see that sci fi is getting a bit of due recognition, seeing that such novels/shows often inspire children to move in that direction as a career.

Nexus August 5, 2009 at 1:39 AM

It was only a matter of time before the astronomers started using names from science fiction, because the traditional myths of the world have been raided comprehensively. Not too happy that they started with Dune though, because of all the major works of science fiction, that would have to be the one that I like the least. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series has a wealth of cool names in it as well, and also has the advantage of being a much better story.

HeadAroundU August 5, 2009 at 6:36 AM

Horrible pics. :D I’m not sure if I understand them.

Jorge August 5, 2009 at 6:41 AM

Yeah, I’m with Nexus on this one. Don’t particularly care for Dune, but this idea is great. SF generated a wealth of really cool names over the decades, and it would be a shame not to use them for real-world (or is it “real-offworld”?) places.

ElroyJetson August 5, 2009 at 9:09 AM

LOL. With just a little research or prior knowledge, you’ll find that many place names in science fiction are real world locations, words or phrases.
I’d rather like to think of Chusuk Planitia as representing the Korean holiday, Chusuk, an equivalent to Thanksgiving.
http://www.seouleats.com/2008/09/chusuk.html

As a name polishbear suggested, Mount Caladan… or how about Caladan Rd. in Castle Hayne, NC. I love North Carolina. Especially Asheville. Great memories.

Not a fan of Dune at all though.

Manu August 5, 2009 at 12:07 PM

I think this is a very fitting choice, considering the Dune-like features on Titan. Well, dunes to begin with; spice-orange skies, must be others.

And, Dune certainly is one of the foremost scifi works of all times. It was one of my handful of favs when I was (much) younger, even though I have found much better reads since (Le Guin).

There were complaints about 2001 jokes here recently: you guys better brace yourselves for sandworms, Fremen and the Voice, soon to come!

Torbjorn Larsson OM August 5, 2009 at 2:41 PM

There were complaints about 2001 jokes here recently: you guys better brace yourselves for sandworms, Fremen and the Voice, soon to come!

Oh, beDune with it already!

That scifi series got absolutely nowhere, with pages, and pages, and pages, and …

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