Plains of Titan to be Named for “Dune” Novels

by Nancy Atkinson on August 4, 2009

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!


Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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