First Cassini Radio Science Bistatic Scattering Observation of Titan's Northern Seas
Abstract:On May 17, 2014, the Cassini spacecraft completed its 101 flyby of Saturn’s satellite Titan. Mirror-like (quasi-specular) reflections of radio signals transmitted by Cassini were observed on the Earth (bistatic scattering geometry). Three right circularly polarized (RCP) sinusoidal signals were transmitted (wavelength = 0.94, 3.6, and 13 cm). Both the RCP and LCP surface reflections were observed at the Canberra, Australia, complex of the NASA Deep Space Network. The signals probed the region extending from about (lat, long) = (79°N, 315°W) to about (74°N, 232°W). For the first time, two major Titan northern seas, the Ligeia Mare and the Kraken Mare, were probed.
Clearly detectable RCP and LCP echo components were observed over both seas at all 3 wavelengths. The echoes were intermittent over the region in between the two seas. The echoes from the seas have narrowband spectra well modeled as pure sinusoids, suggesting very smooth surfaces over > ~1 cm scales. Over shorelines and river like channels the measured spectra reveal a second distinct broadband component, likely reflection from a rough bottom solid interface.
Modeling the narrowband echo components as sinusoids, we estimate the RCP and LCP echo power profiles over the observation period. High resolution power profiles (several seconds time average; 0.2 to 2 km along the ground track) reveal remarkable structural detail. The statistical measurement uncertainty improves significantly when the resolution is degraded to about 1 m time average (3 to 30 km). Comparison of the 1 m power profiles with theoretical predictions computed assuming absent surface waves (negligible roughness) reveals excellent agreement with reflections from liquid hydrocarbons. The small statistical uncertainty promises to strongly constrain the liquid composition (ethane vs methane dominance).
In principle, the measured RCP/LCP power ratio removes dependence on roughness and enables determination of the dielectric constant regardless if waves are present or not. A known dielectric constant then enables searching for potential presence of capillary and/or gravity waves based on effects on the absolute RCP and LCP echo power and on observed spectral bandwidth.