Correlations between Cassini VIMS spectra and RADAR SAR images: Implications for Titan's surface composition and the character of the Huygens Probe Landing Site
Titan's vast equatorial fields of RADAR-dark longitudinal dunes seen in Cassini RADAR synthetic aperture images correlate with one of two dark surface units discriminated as "brown" and "blue" in Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) color composites of short-wavelength infrared spectral cubes (RGB as 2.0, 1.6, 1.3 μm). In such composites bluer materials exhibit higher reflectance at 1.3 μm and lower at 1.6 and 2.0 μm. The dark brown unit is highly correlated with the RADAR-dark dunes. The dark brown unit shows less evidence of water ice suggesting that the saltating grains of the dunes are largely composed of hydrocarbons and/or nitriles. In general, the bright units also show less evidence of absorption due to water ice and are inferred to consist of deposits of bright fine precipitating tholin aerosol dust. Some set of chemical/mechanical processes may be converting the bright fine-grained aerosol deposits into the dark saltating hydrocarbon and/or nitrile grains. Alternatively the dark dune materials may be derived from a different type of air aerosol photochemical product than are the bright materials. In our model, both the bright aerosol and dark hydrocarbon dune deposits mantle the VIMS dark blue water ice-rich substrate. We postulate that the bright mantles are effectively invisible (transparent) in RADAR synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images leading to lack of correlation in the RADAR images with optically bright mantling units. RADAR images mostly show only dark dunes and the water ice substrate that varies in roughness, fracturing, and porosity. If the rate of deposition of bright aerosol is 0.001-0.01 μm/yr, the surface would be coated (to optical instruments) in hundreds-to-thousands of years unless cleansing processes are active. The dark dunes must be mobile on this very short timescale to prevent the accumulation of bright coatings. Huygens landed in a region of the VIMS bright and dark blue materials and about 30 km south of the nearest occurrence of dunes visible in the RADAR SAR images. Fluvial/pluvial processes, every few centuries or millennia, must be cleansing the dark floors of the incised channels and scouring the dark plains at the Huygens landing site both imaged by Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer (DISR).