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Titan Atmospheric & Surface Chemistry
post May 10 2012, 05:26 PM
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The nature of the bright surface amounting to most of Titan's surface is entirely uncertain. Some of the main things we know are:

- It has a thickness between very thin (micrometers) and about 100 meters.

- If you name just about any substance expected to condense out of Titan's atmosphere, it's not it. (Spectral signal doesn't match.)

- On the VIMS dark "blue" plains where Huygens landed, the spectral signal of the bright terrain is a component that is most intense near the shoreline.

Titan has subdued topography, but if this area resembles the highlands near the Huygens landing site, there might not be vast avalanches, but crumbling on a small scale which can be significant when the layers are so small. Equatorial areas on Titan almost certainly get rainfall quite rarely, then catastrophic deluges. So models that seem plausible might include:

1) Thin sheets of dark dune material that accumulated for 10s or 100s of years as a minor albedo component being swept away by the rain, like washing a white car that hadn't had a carwash in 50 years.
2) Craggy features on a scale of centimeters or decimeters crumbling under the rainfall, reducing the shadows.

If we had a lander touch down on this sort of surface, show us the small scale morphology and analyze the chemistry of that bright coating (and what's below it), it would be a tremendous advance. Right now, we don't have a lot of information, and I'm not sure that the rest of Cassini's mission will fill in many of the blanks.
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