Astronomy Picture of the Day
October 1, 2014

Mystery Feature in Ligeia Mare
Mystery Feature in Ligeia Mare

Credits: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute - Credits for the additional process. and color.: Dr Paolo C. Fienga/LXTT/IPF

These three fascinating images, created from the NASA - CASSINI Spacecraft's Synthetic Aperture Radar (or "SAR", for short) data, show the appearance and evolution of a mysterious Feature located in Ligeia Mare, one of the largest Hydrocarbon Seas found on the Saturnian moon Titan. The views, taken during three different Cassini Fly-Bys of Titan, show that this Feature was not visible in earlier Radar Images of the same Region and its appearance changed between the AD 2013 and the AD 2014.


In the images, the dark areas represent the Sea, which is thought to be composed of Methane and Ethane. Most of the bright areas represent Land Surface located above or just beneath the Water-Line. The mysterious bright Feature appears off the Coast below center in the middle and right (Dx) images. The "Mystery Feature" had not been seen in preceding SAR observations of the Region from the AD 2007 to the AD 2009. After its first appearance, in early July 2013, it was not visible in observations by Cassini's Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer, obtained later in July and in September 2013. Furthermore, Low-Resolution SAR images obtained in October 2013 also failed to recover (---> see) the Feature.


The SAR observation from Cassini's August 21, 2014 Titan Fly-By shows that the Feature was still visible, although its appearance changed dramatically during the 11 months since it was last observed. The Feature seems to have changed in size between the images from the AD 2013 and 2014 - doubling from about 30 square miles (such as about 48,28 square Km) to about 60 square miles (about 96,56 square Km). Ongoing analyses of these data may eliminate some of the explanations previously put forward, or reveal new clues as to what is actually happening in Titan's Seas.


The Cassini Radar Team is investigating possible origins for the Feature, including huge Surface Waves, rising Bubbles, Floating Solids (Icebergs?), Solids that are suspended just below the Surface or - perhaps - something more "Exotic". Researchers suspect that the appearance of this Feature could be related to changing seasons on Titan, as Summer draws near in the moon's Northern Hemisphere. Monitoring such changes is a major goal for the NASA - CASSINI Spacecraft's current Extended Mission.


Anyway, and as of now, no one can say for sure if the Titanian Environment could support the existence of some sort of "Exotic" Indigenous Lifeforms which could live - and, perhaps, evolve... - within these Bodies of Liquid Hydrocabons and, furthermore, nobody can also exclude the presence, within (or even just near) these Bodies of Liquids, of some kind of "Exotic" Superficial Vegetation, but the possibilities that something may actually be alive in and/or near and around these Seas, Lakes and Rivers, are - in our opinion, as IPF - not too small.


These three images (which are Original NASA - CASSINI Spacecraft's radio images published on the NASA - Planetary Photojournal with the n. PIA 18430), since they are just Radio-Images of the Titanian Surface and NOT a real view of it, have been colorized, according to an informed speculation carried out by Dr Paolo C. Fienga (LXTT-IPF), in what they could reasonably be its possible Absolute Natural Colors (such as the colors that a human eye would perceive if someone were onboard the NASA - CASSINI Spacecraft and, once the thick layer of Titanian Hazes and Fogs shall have been completely overcome, looked down, towards the Surface of Titan itself), by using an original technique created - and, in time, dramatically improved - by the Lunar Explorer Italia Team.



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