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The Spectral Nature of Titan's Major Geomorphological Units: Constraints on Surface Composition
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2018 (English)In: Journal of Geophysical Research - Planets, ISSN 2169-9097, E-ISSN 2169-9100, Vol. 123, no 2, p. 489-507Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

We investigate Titan's low-latitude and midlatitude surface using spectro-imaging near-infrared data from Cassini/Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer. We use a radiative transfer code to first evaluate atmospheric contributions and then extract the haze and the surface albedo values of major geomorphological units identified in Cassini Synthetic Aperture Radar data, which exhibit quite similar spectral response to the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer data. We have identified three main categories of albedo values and spectral shapes, indicating significant differences in the composition among the various areas. We compare with linear mixtures of three components (water ice, tholin-like, and a dark material) at different grain sizes. Due to the limited spectral information available, we use a simplified model, with which we find that each albedo category of regions of interest can be approximately fitted with simulations composed essentially by one of the three surface candidates. Our fits of the data are overall successful, except in some cases at 0.94, 2.03, and 2.79m, indicative of the limitations of our simplistic compositional model and the need for additional components to reproduce Titan's complex surface. Our results show a latitudinal dependence of Titan's surface composition, with water ice being the major constituent at latitudes beyond 30 degrees N and 30 degrees S, while Titan's equatorial region appears to be dominated partly by a tholin-like or by a very dark unknown material. The albedo differences and similarities among the various geomorphological units give insights on the geological processes affecting Titan's surface and, by implication, its interior. We discuss our results in terms of origin and evolution theories. Plain Language Summary Titan, Saturn's moon, has been investigated by the Cassini mission for almost 13 years, unveiling an exotic world with many features similar to Earth. One of the mysteries that still has not been resolved even after that many years of exploration is the nature of its surface composition. Titan is a very complex world with multivariable geology and a very thick and hazy atmosphere that shields the surface from remote sensing observations, prohibiting direct evaluation of its composition. In our study we analyze spectro-imaging data from the Cassini visual and infrared spectrometer. We first infer the atmospheric contribution and then extract true surface properties. We study major geomorphological regions on Titan, which include among other mountains, plains, craters, and dunes. We derive their surface albedo values and shapes that reveal the brightness of the surface and compare them with materials that we expect to find on Titan's surface, such as water ice, tholins (atmospheric products), and a very dark unknown component. The results from this analysis show that Titan presents a pattern in its surface composition distribution with its equator being dominated by organic materials from the atmosphere and a very dark unknown material, while higher latitudes contain more water ice.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
AMER GEOPHYSICAL UNION , 2018. Vol. 123, no 2, p. 489-507
Keywords [en]
Titan geology, geomorphological units, spectral behavior, radiative transfer, Titan composition, saturnian satellites
National Category
Physical Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-225222DOI: 10.1002/2017JE005477ISI: 000427479000010Scopus ID: 2-s2.0-85042305497OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-225222DiVA, id: diva2:1194974
Note

QC 20180404

Available from: 2018-04-04 Created: 2018-04-04 Last updated: 2018-04-04Bibliographically approved

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