Sights and Sounds of Titan

Jan 17, 2005
Small

by Dr. Tony Phillips

The European Space Agency's (ESA's) Huygens probe, carried to Saturn by the Cassini spacecraft, parachuted to the surface of Saturn's giant moon Titan on Friday, Jan. 14th, revealing finally what lies beneath Titan's thick orange clouds.
First images released by the ESA depict sinuous drainage channels leading to an apparent shoreline. What's draining? Possibly liquid methane. The orange landscape around the Huygens landing site is littered with little rocks, rounded and smooth like river-rocks on Earth. One of the images seems to show tendrils of ground fog made not of water but perhaps ethane or methane.

Image: Small "rocks," possibly made of water ice, at the Huygens landing site. Evidence of erosion at the base of these objects suggests fluvial activity. The right panel shows, approximately, the true color of the scene.

It's all a bit familiar, yet at the same time utterly alien. Researchers are elated.

Because Titan has a thick atmosphere, able to carry sound waves, the moon is a noisy place. Microphones onboard Huygens recorded the sound of wind rushing by the probe as it descended. The ESA has released about one minute's worth of the recording; it's a sample of what a traveler riding with Huygens would have heard during the descent: click here to listen.

Huygens was designed to float in case it landed in a river or lake--but it didn't. After descending by parachute for two and a half hours, the saucer-shaped probe hit solid ground at a speed of 4.5 meters per second (10 mph), experiencing a brief jolting deceleration of 15 Gs. Huygens survived the impact and continued transmitting data for more than one hour after landing.

Among the measurements sent back to Earth were air temperature, pressure, composition and wind speed sampled at points ranging from the top of Titan's atmosphere to the ground. The temperature of the landing site itself was minus 291 degrees F. A "penetrometer" on the bottom of the probe poked into the ground. The soil, it found, has the consistency of wet sand or clay and is covered by a thin crust ... of something. Scientists are still analyzing all these data.

Source: Science@NASA (by Dr. Tony Phillips)

Explore further: Some potentially habitable planets began as gaseous, Neptune-like worlds

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

What other worlds have we landed on?

Jan 14, 2015

Think of all the different horizons humans have viewed on other worlds. The dust-filled skies of Mars. The Moon's inky darkness. Titan's orange haze. These are just a small subset of the worlds that humans ...

How Titan's haze help us understand life's origins

Aug 25, 2014

Where did life on Earth come from? There are several theories as to what might have happened. Maybe comets came bearing organic material, or life was transported from another planet such as Mars, or something ...

Titan offers clues to atmospheres of hazy planets

Jul 28, 2014

When hazy planets pass across the face of their star, a curious thing happens. Astronomers are not able to see any changes in the range of light coming from the star and planet system.

MIPT-based researcher models Titan's atmosphere

Jul 24, 2014

A researcher from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Prof. Vladimir Krasnopolsky, who heads the Laboratory of High Resolution Infrared Spectroscopy of Planetary Atmospheres, has published the results of the comparison ...

In the eye of the beholder

Jan 24, 2014

Astrobiologists are developing 'intelligent' instruments that could help future robotic explorers make their own decisions about where and how to collect data. Although focused on Mars exploration for the ...

Recommended for you

NASA engineer advances new daytime star tracker

15 hours ago

Scientists who use high-altitude scientific balloons have high hopes for their instruments in the future. Although the floating behemoths that carry their instruments far into the stratosphere can stay aloft ...

Image: Sounding rockets launch into an aurora

15 hours ago

The interaction of solar winds and Earth's atmosphere produces northern lights, or auroras, that dance across the night sky and mesmerize the casual observer. However, to scientists this interaction is more ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.