October 1, 2014
These two views of Saturn's moon Titan show the southern polar vortex, a huge, swirling cloud that was first observed by NASA's Cassini spacecraft in 2012.
The view at left is a spectral map of Titan obtained with the Cassini Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) on Nov. 29, 2012. The inset image is a natural-color close-up of the polar vortex taken by Cassini's wide-angle camera (part of the view previously released as Polar Vortex in Color).
Three distinct components are evident in the VIMS image, represented by different colors: the surface of Titan (orange, near center), atmospheric haze along the limb (light green, at top) and the polar vortex (blue, at lower left).
To the VIMS instrument, the spectrum of the southern polar vortex shows a remarkable difference with respect to other portions of Titan's atmosphere: a signature of frozen hydrogen cyanide molecules (HCN). This discovery has suggested to researchers that the atmosphere of Titan's southern hemisphere is cooling much faster than expected. Observing seasonal shifts like this in the moon's climate is a major goal for Cassini's current extended mission.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA. The VIMS team is based at the University of Arizona in Tucson. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.
The VIMS image was processed by Remco de Kok.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/University of Arizona/SSI/Leiden Observatory and SRON