The properties of Titan's surface at the Huygens landing site from DISR observations

H. U. Keller, B. Grieger, M. Küppers, S. E. Schröder, Y. V. Skorov, M. G. Tomasko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


The descent imager/spectral radiometer (DISR) onboard the Huygens probe investigated the radiation balance inside Titan's atmosphere and took hundreds of images and spectra of the ground during the descent. The scattering of the aerosols in the atmosphere and the absorption by methane strongly influence the irradiation reaching the surface and the signals received by the various instruments. The physical properties of the surface can only be assessed after the influence of the atmosphere has been taken into account and properly removed. In the broadband visible images (660 to 1000 nm) the contrast of surface features is strongly reduced by the aerosol scattering. Calculations show that for an image taken from an altitude of 14.5 km, the corrected contrast is about three times higher than in the raw image. Spectral information of the surface by the imaging spectrometers in the visible and near infrared range can only be retrieved in the methane absorption windows. Intensity ratios from the methane windows can be used to make false color maps. The elevated bright 'land' terrain is redder than the flat dark 'lake bed' terrain. The reflectance spectra of the land and lake bed area in the IR are derived, as well as the reflectance phase function in the limited range from 20{ring operator} to 50{ring operator} phase angle. An absorption feature at 1.55μ m which may be attributed tentatively to water ice is found in the lake bed, but not in the land area. Otherwise the surface exhibits a featureless blue slope in the near-IR region (0.9-1.6 μ m). Brightness profiles perpendicular to the coast line show that the bottoms of the channels of the large scale flow pattern become darker the further they are away from the land area. This could be interpreted as sedimentation of the bright land material transported by the rivers into the lake bed area. The river beds in the deeply incised valleys need not to be covered by dark material. Their roughly 10% brightness decrease could be caused by the illumination as illustrated by a model calculation. The size distribution of cobbles seen in the images after landing is in agreement with a single major flooding of the area with a flow speed of about 1 m s- 1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)728-752
Number of pages25
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 2008


  • Huygens
  • Titan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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