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Titan images surprise scientists
Posted: Sun, Jul 4, 2004, 11:02 AM ET (1502 GMT)
Cassini and Huygens at Titan (NASA) The first detailed images of Saturn's moon Titan returned by NASA's Cassini spacecraft have changed scientistsí opinions about the features found on the cloud-shrouded moon. The images, taken during a flyby Friday from a distance of about 340,000 kilometers, disappointed scientists to some degree with the lack of detail visible of the surface, glimpsed at wavelengths where light can travel through the clouds. The images did reveal, however, a number of circular and linear features on the surface, including what appears to be an impact crater. The images did not reveal any evidence, though, of oceans of liquid hydrocarbons that previous studies by Earth-based telescopes suggested existed. Spectroscopic data showed that dark areas of the surface are composed almost entirely of water ice, while light areas are composed of mixtures of water ice and hydrocarbons; scientists has previously assumed the reverse was true. Cassini will perform 45 more flybys of Titan over the next four years, coming as close as 950 kilometers to the moon.
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