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Goddard Scientist Receives Lindsay Award for Titan Research
09.28.11
 
Dr. Flasar Dr. F. Michael Flasar. Image courtesy Dr. Flasar. GREENBELT, Md. -- Dr. F. Michael Flasar, an expert on the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan, is the recipient of the 46th Annual John C. Lindsay Memorial Award, the highest honor given by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in space science. The award is being presented Sept. 30.

Much of Flasar's research has focused on the meteorology and global climate of Titan, the only moon in the solar system to have a planet-like atmosphere. He is the Principal Investigator for the infrared instrument on NASA's Cassini spacecraft that measures temperature. This instrument, called the Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS), can provide a wealth of information about the surface, internal structure and atmosphere of a planet or moon. He is also a member of the Cassini Radio Science team. That experiment measures the gravity of Saturn and its moons as well as the properties of Saturn's rings and Saturn’s and Titan's atmospheres.

"This award is a terrific recognition of Mike's lifetime contribution to our understanding of one of the most interesting satellites in the solar system," says Dr. Anne Kinney, Director of Goddard's Solar System Exploration Division.

Flasar was part of the team that discovered one of Titan's most puzzling features: most of the atmosphere rotates much faster, up to 20 times faster, than the moon itself. Venus is the only other place in the solar system where this type of behavior has been observed.

Flasar also predicted that Titan had a jet-stream-like wind pattern near its winter pole. This wind vortex whips around the pole, isolating the pocket of air at its center in much the same way that air currents on Earth set up the atmospheric conditions for the ozone holes to form. When Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004, Titan’s north pole was in winter, and detailed measurements made by CIRS confirmed the existence of this wind pattern in the northern hemisphere.

"I am honored to receive this award, which acknowledges not only my own work but also the hard work of all of my collaborators over the years," says Flasar. "They have taught me a lot, and our common endeavor has been exciting and rewarding."

Flasar says his "30-year love affair with Titan" began with Voyager 1's encounter with the moon in 1980. He was a Co-Investigator on the temperature instrument on Voyager, called the Infrared Radiometer Interferometer and Spectrometer, or IRIS. IRIS could penetrate into much of Titan's thick atmosphere, allowing the scientists to begin to study the composition and temperatures of the atmosphere in its many layers.

Later, Flasar was the Co-Investigator, and then Principal Investigator, for Cassini's CIRS instrument. Among the discoveries made by CIRS was the unexpected finding of localized hot regions near the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus, which could only be explained by a significant flow of heat from its interior.

Flasar continues to analyze Titan's wind patterns and predicts that by the time winter comes to Titan's southern hemisphere in 2017, the wind vortex in the northern hemisphere will have shifted to the southern hemisphere. "We expect to find a complete reversal at that point," says Flasar. "The big question is: will the northern vortex go out with a bang or a whimper? On Earth, the polar vortex is disrupted dramatically in late spring, through the collision of polar and tropical air masses. But on Titan, it’s not clear. Perhaps the vortex will just gradually fizzle out like the smile of the Cheshire cat."

The John C. Lindsay Award in Space Science is named in honor of Dr. John C. Lindsay, a pioneer in the exploration of the sun by both satellite- and rocket-borne experiments. The award commemorates the launch on March 7, 1962, of the first Orbiting Solar Observatory, which was built by Lindsay and others.

The Lindsay Award is presented each year to the Goddard employee who best exhibits the qualities of broad scientific accomplishments in space science.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The CIRS team is based at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., where the instrument was built.

For more information about CIRS, visit:

http://cirs.gsfc.nasa.gov/


 
 
Goddard Release No. 11-064

Nancy Neal-Jones
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
301-286-0039
nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov

Elizabeth Zubritsky
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
301-614-5438
/elizabeth.a.zubritsky@nasa.gov