Waves on the seas of Titan are less than a one-quarter of an inch high, which would provide a calm landing surface for probes.
In the new study, Grima and his colleagues analyzed data collected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting Saturn since July 2004. Specifically, the team looked at radar measurements of Kraken Mare, Ligeia Mare and Punga Mare that Cassini made in Titan’s early summer season. (The largest of these three, Kraken Mare, is about as big as Earth’s Caspian Sea.)
The researchers then calculated wave dimensions, using a technique previously developed by Grima.
“Cyril’s work is an independent measure of sea roughness and helps to constrain the size and nature of any wind waves,” co-author Alex Hayes, an assistant professor of astronomy at Cornell University in New York state, said in the same statement. “From the results, it looks like we are right near the threshold for wave generation, where patches of the sea are smooth and [other] patches are rough.”
Titan’s early summer had previously been regarded as the start of a windy season on the moon, researchers said. But the new study, which was published June 29 in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, suggested that this may not be the case.
Titan’s surface has been visited once: back in January 2005 by the Huygens lander, which deployed from Cassini. There are currently no firm plans to land another probe on the big moon, but various research groups are working on ideas, including boats and submarines that could explore Titan’s seas.
Cassini is wrapping up its long and accomplished mission. The orbiter is scheduled to plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere on Sept. 15, in an intentional death dive designed to prevent the spacecraft from contaminating Titan or fellow Saturn moon Enceladus with microbes from Earth.