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Cassini SAR, radiometry, scatterometry and altimetry observations of Titan's dune fields

Cassini SAR, radiometry, scatterometry and altimetry observations of Titan's dune fields

Publication date: 08 April 2011

Authors: Le Gall, A., et al.

Journal: Icarus
Volume: 213
Issue: 2
Page: 608-624
Year: 2011

Copyright: Elsevier Inc

Large expanses of linear dunes cover Titan's equatorial regions. As the Cassini mission continues, more dune fields are becoming unveiled and examined by the microwave radar in all its modes of operation (SAR, radiometry, scatterometry, altimetry) and with an increasing variety of observational geometries. In this paper, we report on Cassini's radar instrument observations of the dune fields mapped through May 2009 and present our key findings in terms of Titan's geology and climate. We estimate that dune fields cover ~12.5% of Titan's surface, which corresponds to an area of ~10 million km2, roughly the area of the United States. If dune sand-sized particles are mainly composed of solid organics as suggested by VIMS observations (Cassini Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer) and atmospheric modeling and supported by radiometry data, dune fields are the largest known organic reservoir on Titan. Dune regions are, with the exception of the polar lakes and seas, the least reflective and most emissive features on this moon. Interestingly, we also find a latitudinal dependence in the dune field microwave properties: up to a latitude of ~11°, dune fields tend to become less emissive and brighter as one moves northward. Above ~11° this trend is reversed. The microwave signatures of the dune regions are thought to be primarily controlled by the interdune proportion (relative to that of the dune), roughness and degree of sand cover. In agreement with radiometry and scatterometry observations, SAR images suggest that the fraction of interdunes increases northward up to a latitude of ~14°.

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