Revealing the true face of Titan with physical simulation

1.35 billion kilometers away lies the only other body than Earth in the solar system that has liquid on its surface, Saturn’s moon Titan. It is a primary target for scientists, who have sent the Cassini-Huygens mission around Saturn and on Titan to gather data and understand how this world came to be. However, for the general public, not much of it has been seen. Today, discover how physical simulation means helped create the most realistic images of what a human would see on Titan, based on cutting-edge scientific data!

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Titan is the largest moon of Saturn. It is a mighty solid surface body of our solar system, bigger than Mercury or our Moon. It remained enigmatic until the 14th of January 2005, when Huygens, a lander attached to the Cassini orbiter, touched down on this foggy world. Until then, what we knew about Titan was that it was shrouded by a dense nitrogen atmosphere with an orange haze, so thick that the surface was not visible from space. Huygens showed us a world full of riverbeds and lakebeds, pebbles, sand, and mountains. With the help of the eventual 126 Cassini flybys of Titan, the veil faded and we now know much more about this strangely familiar world. From the surface itself, Huygens returned many images of a single viewpoint. The imaging sensors, conceived in the late 1980s, provided low-resolution images but were also coupled to spectrometers and photometers in the DISR (Descent Imaging / Spectral Radiometer) instrument. Huygens acquired data about the Titanian world’s optical properties, both upwards and downwards during all its descent through the atmosphere, and of the surface when close enough, with the help of an embedded lamp. These data, published in many scientific articles, were not used for public outreach. The real face of Titan, as we would see it, remained a mystery.


How would we see Titan in real life? Since the pictures provided by Huygens were not satisfactory enough, only remained the optical data provided by the probe. OPTIS, specialized in optical and light simulation and virtual reality solutions, use these data and physical simulation to create an accurate visualization of Titan. They have generated very precise images, showing what a person would see if standing on the surface of Titan, and create the most realistic insights of this moon. We now know what the human eye sees on Titan, how we perceive colors there, what the sun looks like through this thick atmosphere, and even how far we could see. 


The OPTIS technology, which enables to turn data into very realistic images thanks to its physics-based behavior, brings a new kind of realism to film-making, as the images were used as a basis for the documentary Last Call for Titan by Frédéric Ramade and Jonathan Tavel.

It also shows how a physics-based 3D renderer can create a perfect visualization of a new world based on actual scientific data. Now, it is also possible to visualize these simulations with modern head-mounted displays, for an enhanced feeling of immersion, a virtual reality experience both scientists and the public are always eager to see.



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