Titan Features Named

Ligeia Mare, shown here in an artistically enhanced image from NASA's Cassini mission, is the second largest known body of liquid on Saturn's moon Titan. It is filled with liquid hydrocarbons, such as ethane and methane, and is one of the many seas and lakes that bejewel Titan's north polar region. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

Ligeia Mare, shown here in an artistically enhanced image from NASA’s Cassini mission, is the second largest known body of liquid on Saturn’s moon Titan. It is filled with liquid hydrocarbons, such as ethane and methane, and is one of the many seas and lakes that bejewel Titan’s north polar region. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

Fresh from the Cassini PSG (Project Science Group) Meeting, being held in Rome at the Italian Space Agency headquarter, here are a few selected names from a list of newly approved IAU names for Titan features. I selected them because they celebrate one of the most famous series of novels in science fiction: the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov.

The names refers to straits (“fretum” in latin) in Titan’s seas, one of the area of recent great interest in planetary exploration also thanks to the discoveries made with Cassini radar by an international team. These discoveries have been discussed in an evening lecture by our member Valerio Poggiali, held at the HQ last year.

The names are:

  • Seldon Fretum (from Hari Seldon, the scientist behind the predictions about the evolution of the galactic empire)
  • Hardin Fretum (from Salvor Hardin, the first mayor of Terminus, the planet of the Galactic Encyclopedia)
  • Bayta Fretum (from Bayta Darrell, the Foundation heroine that defeated the Mule)
  • Trevize Fretum (from Golan Trevize, the First Foundation citizen the bridged the gap with the future evolution of the galaxy)

In the same meeting, on the first day, there has been a celebration of the 10th anniversary of Huygens landing on Titan, in January 2005, and a lot of papers presented showed how active is still the research done on data collected a decade ago. Better processing techniques, improved models from other observations, and advances in planetary sciences, keep the studies related to Huygens landing site alive and interesting. This is an example of planetary science seldom presented to public: how to keep studying from a few hours of data collected long ago. It is an important lesson on the patience and tenacity required to be a good researcher.

The Cassini mission is progressing well, the spacecraft is behaving well and the science community is very active. Cassini is in its Solstice mission and it is heading for its last two years of mission before the so called Grand Finale with a series of orbits to study Saturn closer and closer until the final plunge into the atmosphere of the gas giants. A continuous flow of new discoveries is the norm for this mission and we can count on more surprises in the following months.

Cassini is a joint mission of NASA, ESA and ASI and it has enjoyed the collaboration of 19 different nations.

F. Bernardini, FBIS

Thanks to Dr. Ralph Lorenz, for providing the information about the naming of these, and others, features on Titan. Beside, Ralph is also a BIS member.

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