The Spectral Nature of Titan's Major Geomorphological Units: Constraints on Surface Composition

A. Solomonidou, A. Coustenis, R. M.C. Lopes, M. J. Malaska, S. Rodriguez, P. Drossart, C. Elachi, B. Schmitt, S. Philippe, M. Janssen, M. Hirtzig, S. Wall, C. Sotin, K. Lawrence, N. Altobelli, E. Bratsolis, J. Radebaugh, K. Stephan, R. H. Brown, S. Le MouélicA. Le Gall, E. V. Villanueva, J. F. Brossier, A. A. Bloom, O. Witasse, C. Matsoukas, A. Schoenfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


We investigate Titan's low-latitude and midlatitude surface using spectro-imaging near-infrared data from Cassini/Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer. We use a radiative transfer code to first evaluate atmospheric contributions and then extract the haze and the surface albedo values of major geomorphological units identified in Cassini Synthetic Aperture Radar data, which exhibit quite similar spectral response to the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer data. We have identified three main categories of albedo values and spectral shapes, indicating significant differences in the composition among the various areas. We compare with linear mixtures of three components (water ice, tholin-like, and a dark material) at different grain sizes. Due to the limited spectral information available, we use a simplified model, with which we find that each albedo category of regions of interest can be approximately fitted with simulations composed essentially by one of the three surface candidates. Our fits of the data are overall successful, except in some cases at 0.94, 2.03, and 2.79 μm, indicative of the limitations of our simplistic compositional model and the need for additional components to reproduce Titan's complex surface. Our results show a latitudinal dependence of Titan's surface composition, with water ice being the major constituent at latitudes beyond 30°N and 30°S, while Titan's equatorial region appears to be dominated partly by a tholin-like or by a very dark unknown material. The albedo differences and similarities among the various geomorphological units give insights on the geological processes affecting Titan's surface and, by implication, its interior. We discuss our results in terms of origin and evolution theories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)489-507
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2018


  • Titan composition
  • Titan geology
  • geomorphological units
  • radiative transfer
  • saturnian satellites
  • spectral behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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