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Friday, January 21, 2005

Seeing, touching and smelling the extraordinarily Earth-like world of Titan

21 January 2005

ESA PR 05-2005. On 14 January ESA's Huygens probe made an historic first ever descent to the surface of Titan, 1.2 billion kilometres from Earth and the largest of Saturn's moons. Huygens travelled to Titan as part of the joint ESA/NASA/ASI Cassini-Huygens mission. Starting at about 150 kilometres altitude, six multi-function instruments on board Huygens recorded data during the descent and on the surface. The first scientific assessments of Huygens' data were presented during a press conference at ESA head office in Paris on 21 January.

"We now have the key to understanding what shapes Titan's landscape," said Dr Martin Tomasko, Principal Investigator for the Descent Imager-Spectral Radiometer (DISR), adding: "Geological evidence for precipitation, erosion, mechanical abrasion and other fluvial activity says that the physical processes shaping Titan are much the same as those shaping Earth."

Spectacular images captured by the DISR reveal that Titan has extraordinarily Earth-like meteorology and geology. Images have shown a complex network of narrow drainage channels running from brighter highlands to lower, flatter, dark regions. These channels merge into river systems running into lakebeds featuring offshore 'islands' and 'shoals' remarkably similar to those on Earth.

Data provided in part by the Gas Chromatograph and Mass Spectrometer (GCMS) and Surface Science Package (SSP) support Dr Tomasko's conclusions. Huygens' data provide strong evidence for liquids flowing on Titan. However, the fluid involved is methane, a simple organic compound that can exist as a liquid or gas at Titan's sub-170°C temperatures, rather than water as on Earth.

Titan's rivers and lakes appear dry at the moment, but rain may have occurred not long ago.


See also NASA Cassini Probe info. Huygens Reveals Titan's Earth-like Features - Jan. 21 2005

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