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Updated: July 8th, 2008 05:26 PM CDT

Cassini Reveals Titan's Earth-Like Xanadu Region

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Observations by the European Space Agency's Huygens probe, that Cassini carried to Titan, and by NASA's Voyager spacecraft strongly hint that both methane rain and dark orange hydrocarbon solids fall like soot from the moon's dark skies.

On Xanadu, liquid methane might fall as rain or trickle from springs. Rivers of methane might carve the channels and carry off grains of material to accumulate as sand dunes elsewhere on Titan.

"This land is heavily tortured, convoluted and filled with hills and mountains," said Steve Wall , the Cassini radar team's deputy leader at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena , Calif. "There appear to be faults, deeply cut channels and valleys. Also, it appears to be the only vast area not covered by organic dirt. Xanadu has been washed clean. What is left underneath looks like very porous water ice, maybe filled with caverns.

"In the 1980s, it took the shuttle imaging radar to discover subsurface rivers in the Sahara. Similarly, if it hadn't been for the Cassini radar, we would have missed all of this. We have a newly discovered continent to explore," Wall said.

Cassini will view Titan again on Saturday, July 22 , exploring the highnorthern latitudes. In the next two years the orbiter will fly by Titan 29 times, nearly twice as many encounters as in the first half of Cassini's four-year prime mission. Twelve of the planned flybys will use radar.


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