Building our new view of TitanJune 01, 2007
Two and a half years after the historic landing of ESA's Huygens probe on Titan, a new set of results on Saturn's largest moon is ready to be presented. Titan, as seen through the eyes of the European Space Agency's Huygens probe, still holds exciting surprises, scientists say. The results are presented in a special edition of Planetary and Space Science Journal and at a press conference held today (June 1st) in Athens.
On 14 January 2005, after a seven-year voyage on board the NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini spacecraft, ESA's Huygens probe spent 2 hours and 28 minutes descending by parachute to land on Titan. It then sent transmissions from the surface for another seventy minutes before Cassini moved out of range.
Professor John Zarnecki of The Open University led the Surface Science Package (SSP) on Huygens "Huygens has provided us with a rich seam of data to mine - and we shall be digging through it for some time to come. The Surface Science Package returned immediate information about Titan about the landing Huygens made but it is also a part of the longer term picture, piecing together the whole environment on Titan."
UK participation in the Cassini-Huygens mission was funded by the Science and technology Facilities Council.
By driving their computer models of Titan to match the data returned from the probe, planetary scientists can now visualise Titan as a working world. "Even though we have only four hours of data, it is so rich that after two years of work we have yet to retrieve all the information it contains," says François Raulin, Huygens Interdisciplinary Scientist, at the Laboratoire de Physique et Chimie de l'Environnement, Paris.
The new details add greatly to the picture of Saturn's largest moon. "Titan is a world very similar to the Earth in many respects," says Jean-Pierre Lebreton, ESA Huygens Project Scientist.
The journey Huygens took to the surface is the subject of the most intense scrutiny, with many papers on the subject. When an anomaly robbed scientists of data from the Doppler Wind Experiment (DWE), it was followed by a painstaking analysis of data collected by radio telescopes on Earth that were tracking Huygens. Engineers and scientists succeeded in recovering the movement of the probe, providing an accurate wind profile and helping them place some of the images and data from Huygens into their correct context.
Now corroborating evidence, resulting from a thorough analysis of many instruments and engineering sensors on Huygens, is adding unprecedented detail to the movement of the probe during its descent.
The team combined temperature and pressure measurements from the Huygens Atmosphere Structure Instrument (HASI) with other measurements from the Surface Science Package (SSP), the Gas Chromatograph and Mass Spectrometer (GCMS), Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer (DISR) and the Doppler Wind Experiment (DWE) to arrive at their trajectory.
Ralph Lorenz, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, Maryland, a co-investigator on the SSP shows that the SSP revealed a turbulent atmospheric layer between 20 and 30 kilometres from the surface. By comparing the motions in this layer with those recorded on terrestrial balloons, Lorenz and his SSP colleagues suggest that the turbulence may have been associated with clouds.
Another report by Lorenz indicates that the density and temperature structure of the atmosphere can be corroborated using data from the engineering sensors on Huygens.
Huygens found that the atmosphere was hazier than expected because of the presence of dust particles - called 'aerosols'. Now, scientists are learning how to interpret their analysis of these aerosols, thanks to a special chamber that simulates Titan's atmosphere.
When the probe dropped below 40 kilometres in altitude, the haze cleared and the cameras were able to take their first distinct images of the surface. They revealed an extraordinary landscape showing strong evidence that a liquid, possibly methane, has flowed on the surface, causing erosion. Now, images from Cassini are being coupled with the 'ground truth' from Huygens to investigate how conditions on Titan carved out this landscape.
As the probe descended, Titan's winds carried it over the surface. A new model of the atmosphere, based on the winds, reveals that Titan's atmosphere is a giant conveyor belt, circulating its gas from the south pole to the north pole and back again.
Also, the tentative detection of an extremely low frequency (ELF) radio wave has planetary scientists equally excited. If they confirm that it is a natural phenomenon, it will give them a way to probe into the moon's subsurface, perhaps revealing an underground ocean.
-end-Notes for editors
Cassini-Huygens is a joint mission between NASA, ESA and the Italian Space Agency (ASI).
Full details of the results and images are available from http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Cassini-Huygens/SEMCLE9RR1F_0_ov.html
For more information
Jean-Pierre Lebreton, ESA Huygens Project Scientist
Email : Jean.Pierre.Lebreton@esa.int
Ralph D. Lorenz, Co-Investigator on SSP
John Hopkins Univ. Applied Physics Lab., MD, USA
Science and Technology Facilities Council
- The Science and Technology Facilities Council ensures the UK retains its leading place on the world stage by delivering world-class science; accessing and hosting international facilities; developing innovative technologies; and increasing the socio-economic impact of its research through effective knowledge-exchange partnerships.
- The Council has a broad science portfolio including Astronomy, Particle Physics, Particle Astrophysics, Nuclear Physics, Space Science, Synchrotron Radiation, Neutron Sources and High Power Lasers. In addition the Council will manage and operate three internationally renowned laboratories:
- The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Oxfordshire
- The Daresbury Laboratory, Cheshire
- The UK Astronomy Technology Centre, Edinburgh
- The Council gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institute Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), the European organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO) and the European Space Agency (ESA). It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility, which includes the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory.
Science and Technology Facilities Council
Related Titan Articles from Brightsurf:Life on Titan cannot rely on cell membranes, according to computational simulations
Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have made a new contribution to the ongoing search into the possibility of life on Titan, Saturn's largest moon.
Galactic cosmic rays affect Titan's atmosphere
Planetary scientists using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) revealed the secrets of the atmosphere of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.
Nitrogen explosions created craters on Saturn moon Titan
Lakes of liquid methane on the surface of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, were likely formed by explosive, pressurized nitrogen just under the moon's surface, according to new research.
'Bathtub rings' around Titan's lakes might be made of alien crystals
The frigid lakeshores of Saturn's moon Titan might be encrusted with strange, unearthly minerals, according to new research being presented at the 2019 Astrobiology Science Conference, June 24-28, co-hosted by AGU and NASA in Bellevue, Wa.
SwRI scientist sheds light on Titan's mysterious atmosphere
A new Southwest Research Institute study tackles one of the greatest mysteries about Titan, one of Saturn's moons: the origin of its thick, nitrogen-rich atmosphere.
Astronomers find a cosmic Titan in the early universe
An international team of astronomers has discovered a titanic structure in the early universe, just two billion years after the Big Bang.
Unexpected atmospheric vortex behavior on Saturn's moon Titan
A new study led by a University of Bristol earth scientist has shown that recently reported unexpected behavior on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, is due to its unique atmospheric chemistry.
Cassini's legacy and the atmospheric chemistry of Titan (video)
The Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency, is set to end on Sept.
ALMA confirms complex chemistry in Titan's atmosphere
Saturn's frigid moon Titan has a curious atmosphere. In addition to a hazy mixture of nitrogen and hydrocarbons, like methane and ethane, Titan's atmosphere also contains an array of more complex organic molecules, including vinyl cyanide, which astronomers recently uncovered in archival ALMA data.
Scientists describe origins of topographic relief on Titan
Fluid erosion has carved river networks in at least three bodies in our solar system in the form of water on Earth and Mars and liquid hydrocarbons on Titan.
Read More: Titan News and Titan Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.