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Huygens mission on Saturn's moon Titan

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posted on Jun, 12 2004 @ 09:43 AM
The Huygens probe will usher in 2005 with its landmark mission at Titan. After a seven-year journey strapped to the side of the Cassini Orbiter, Huygens will be set free on Dec. 25, 2004. The Probe will coast for 21 days en route to Titan.

Huygens will be the first spaceprobe to land on a world in the outer Solar System. It will land on the surface of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, and the only moon in the Solar System to possess a thick atmosphere.

Descent Through Titan's Atmosphere
Huygens will make a parachute-assisted descent through Titan's atmosphere, collecting data as the parachutes slow the probe from super sonic speeds. Five batteries onboard the probe are sized for a Huygens mission duration of 153 minutes, corresponding to a maximum descent time of 2.5 hours plus at least 3 additional minutes (and possibly a half hour or more) on Titan's surface. These batteries are capable of generating 1800 Watt-hours of electricity.

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Huygens's investigations may reveal how life began on Earth. Jean-Pierre Lebreton, ESA's Project Scientist for Huygens says, "One of the key questions we hope to address is how complex the organic molecules have grown in Titan's atmosphere."

However, organic molecules are still a long way from life itself. So, what defines life? What is the difference between the living and the non-living? Scientists are still unsure. No satisfactory definition has been found so far. Any attempt to define life's characteristics either excludes some types of life or includes some inanimate objects. When looking for an appropriate definition of life, there is one property all scientists seem to agree on: all life needs energy to sustain its metabolism. For example, plants use sunlight, while animals extract energy from organic molecules in the food they eat. This happens not only in these higher-level organisms, but also in the simplest forms of life on Earth, microbes. Microbes are single-cell organisms that capture their life-energy from a dizzying array of inorganic chemical reactions. Such chemical metabolisms are so different from those in the animals and plants of Earth, that astrobiologists now wonder if life could arise in any place that can sustain a rich network of chemical reactions, such as on Titan.

NASA's Voyager 1 provided the first detailed images of Titan in 1980. They showed only an opaque, orange atmosphere, apparently homogeneus. It was so thick that you could not see the surface. However, other data revealed exciting things. Similarly to Earth, Titan's atmosphere is mostly nitrogen but there is also methane and many other organic compounds.

Organic compounds form when sunlight destroys the methane. If sunlight is continuously destroying methane, how is methane getting into the atmosphere? On Earth today, it is life itself that refreshes the methane supply. Methane is a by-product of the metabolism of many organisms. Could this mean there is life on Titan?

Titan is not a pleasant place for life. It is far too cold for liquid water to exist, and all known forms of life need liquid water. Titan's surface is -180?C. According to one exotic theory, long ago, the impact of a meteorite, for example, might have provided enough heat to liquify water for perhaps a few hundred or thousand years. However, it is unlikely that Titan is a site for life today. Jean-Pierre Lebreton, Huygens Project Scientist, is puzzled by the amount of methane that persists in Titan's atmosphere. Could there be oceans of methane on or under the surface?

Solid landing or ocean landing?

Over the years, scientists have dramatically changed their minds about Titan's surface. In the mid-nineties, the NASA-ESA Hubble Space Telescope spied an area on Titan that was brighter than the rest. More recent observations show the same feature better. What are these bright and dark patches? Lebreton wonders if, "the bright area could be a continent and the rest oceans. We don't know yet. There is no doubt, though, that the surface appears very diverse, not uniform. There are a lot of surprises waiting for us there."

Where will Huygens land? On the bright patch or on a dark one? "Closer to the bright surface, but not on it," answers Lebreton. "Just imagine! We could be landing in an ocean! It would be really exciting, the first landing in an ocean outside the Earth!" To land on an ocean would probably mean better data from Huygens. Even if the probe lasted only a few minutes before sinking, it would at least stay in an upright position. Being the right way up is essential for sending the data back to the Cassini orbiter and to the scientists on Earth. Moreover, some of Huygens's instruments are better prepared to analyse liquids. If Huygens lands on a solid surface instead, there is a higher risk of falling in the wrong direction and not being able to easily communicate with Cassini.

What do you guys think about this mission? I think the most interesting find would be organic compounds. They are formed when sunlight destroys the methane. If there are organic compound on Titan, what is replenishing the methane? Here on Earth it is life itself that replenishes it. Any ideas?

I am sorry if this has been posted, but I did do a search to see if it has:


and here

posted on Jun, 12 2004 @ 09:55 AM
I've been following this mission since 1996 when I first read about it. It is one of the most interesting things happening outside of Mars exploration.

Thanks for posting this, it's been neglected in the press until very recently.

I hope the probe does manage to land in a good position, because there could be some very interesting results from the tests it will hopefully manage to complete. I'm not counting on life being found, but the atmospheric tests should clear up some of the mysterys of Titan.

I've always watched out for info on this mission, as the probe has a CD-ROM on it which contains a drawing I made (as well as many other people) on through the Hugyens website many years ago.

posted on Jun, 30 2004 @ 11:19 PM
I was just watching an interview with one of the ESA scientists, that
developed the Probe.

20 years of his life was spent in developing, building, and now, waiting
for the home stretch.!
I really hope is works, for his sake!!

We'll probably get a better idea soon of the surface, through Cassini-vision
over the next few months.

Then, if we're lucky, a few pictures..

posted on Jun, 30 2004 @ 11:32 PM
Is titan the moon that has what some people think is oceans of methane on it? If this is the same moon could the probe cause a spark that could ignite the methane?

posted on Jun, 30 2004 @ 11:41 PM
Yep, it's TITAN.

But NOPE, no igniting, no Oxygen, or very little.
Lots on Nitrogen though, so very similar to Earth, 4.5 billion years ago.
a LITTLE colder though!

[edit on 30-6-2004 by spacedoubt]

posted on Jun, 30 2004 @ 11:49 PM
Cool ,There must be alot of methane there.Titan the future refuel station for earth maybe

posted on Jul, 1 2004 @ 12:23 AM
Yeah, a bunch of others were discussing it here.

Some pretty far-out ideas, check it out..

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