Photometric properties of Titan's surface from Cassini VIMS: Relevance to titan's hemispherical albedo dichotomy and surface stability

R. M. Nelson, R. H. Brown, B. W. Hapke, W. D. Smythe, L. Kamp, M. D. Boryta, F. Leader, K. H. Baines, G. Bellucci, J. P. Bibring, B. J. Buratti, F. Capaccioni, P. Cerroni, R. N. Clark, M. Combes, A. Coradini, D. P. Cruikshank, P. Drossart, V. Formisano, R. JaumannY. Langevin, D. L. Matson, T. B. McCord, V. Mennella, P. D. Nicholson, B. Sicardy, C. Sotin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations


The Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) instrument on the Cassini Saturn Orbiter returned spectral imaging data as the spacecraft undertook six close encounters with Titan beginning 7 July, 2004. Three of these flybys each produced overlapping coverage of two distinct regions of Titan's surface. Twenty-four points were selected on approximately opposite hemispheres to serve as photometric controls. Six points were selected in each of four reflectance classes. On one hemisphere each control point was observed at three distinct phase angles. From the derived phase coefficients, preliminary normal reflectances were derived for each reflectance class. The normal reflectance of Titan's surface units at 2.0178 μm ranged from 0.079 to 0.185 for the most absorbing to the most reflective units assuming no contribution from absorbing haze. When a modest haze contribution of τ=0.1 is considered these numbers increase to 0.089-0.215. We find that the lowest three reflectance classes have comparable normal reflectance on either hemisphere. However, for the highest brightness class the normal reflectance is higher on the hemisphere encompassing longitude 14-65° compared to the same high brightness class for the hemisphere encompassing 122-156° longitude. We conclude that an albedo dichotomy observed in continental sized units on Titan is due not only to one unit having more areal coverage of reflective material than the other but the material on the brighter unit is intrinsically more reflective than the most reflective material on the other unit. This suggests that surface renewal processes are more widespread on Titan's more reflective units than on its less reflective units. We note that one of our photometric control points has increased in reflectance by 12% relative to the surrounding terrain from July of 2004 to April and May of 2005. Possible causes of this effect include atmospheric processes such as ground fog or orographic clouds; the suggestion of active volcanism cannot be ruled out. Several interesting circular features which resembled impact craters were identified on Titan's surface at the time of the initial Titan flyby in July of 2004. We traced photometric profiles through two of these candidate craters and attempted to fit these profiles to the photometric properties expected from model depressions. We find that the best-fit attempt to model these features as craters requires that they be unrealistically deep, approximately 70 km deep. We conclude that despite their appearance, these circular features are not craters, however, the possibility that they are palimpsests cannot be ruled out. We used two methods to test for the presence of vast expanses of liquids on Titan's surface that had been suggested to resemble oceans. Specular reflection of sunlight would be indicative of widespread liquids on the surface; we found no evidence of this. A large liquid body should also show uniformity in photometric profile; we found the profiles to be highly variable. The lack of specular reflection and the high photometric variability in the profiles across candidate oceans is inconsistent with the presence of vast expanses of flat-lying liquids on Titan's surface. While liquid accumulation may be present as small, sub-pixel-sized bodies, or in areas of the surface which still remain to be observed by VIMS, the presence of large ocean-sized accumulations of liquids can be ruled out. The Cassini orbital tour offers the opportunity for VIMS to image the same parts of Titan's surface repeatedly at many different illumination and observation geometries. This creates the possibility of understanding the properties of Titan's atmosphere and haze by iteratively adapting models to create a best fit to the surface reflectance properties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1540-1551
Number of pages12
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
Issue number15
StatePublished - Dec 1 2006


  • Cassini
  • Satrunian satellites
  • Titan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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    Nelson, R. M., Brown, R. H., Hapke, B. W., Smythe, W. D., Kamp, L., Boryta, M. D., Leader, F., Baines, K. H., Bellucci, G., Bibring, J. P., Buratti, B. J., Capaccioni, F., Cerroni, P., Clark, R. N., Combes, M., Coradini, A., Cruikshank, D. P., Drossart, P., Formisano, V., ... Sotin, C. (2006). Photometric properties of Titan's surface from Cassini VIMS: Relevance to titan's hemispherical albedo dichotomy and surface stability. Planetary and Space Science, 54(15), 1540-1551.