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Astrobiology - Titan
 
Probably the biggest news in regards to the search for life in our own Solar System is the Huygens mission to the moon Titan.

For 2006, the results of the Huygens probe has been released in a series of articles for Nature Magazine. Please click the links below to read the PDF's of these articles.

For more information on the specific instruments used to collect data from Huygens - click here.

There are two key points as to why this is:

1. Titan is the only moon in our Solar System that has a substantial atmosphere
2. The composition of the atmosphere is the same as Earth's primitive atmosphere during the early stages of biological evolution.
The Huygens probe has successfully entered Titan's atmosphere and landed safely on the surface. While the data from the probe will no doubt be studies closely over the next few years, several interesting facts have already been revealed:
  • Land shaping is similar to that on Earth
  • Evidence of liquid methane is present
  • Spectroscopy indicated Titan's crust to be a sandy material (possibly methane in origin)
  • Hydrocarbon particles are present on Titan's surface
Geology: Earth: Titan:
Liquid Water Methane
Rocks Silicate Water-Ice
Surface Debris Dirt (sand) Hydrocarbons

Titan Images:

This image is the location of Huygens landing site:

Initial views as Huygens passed through the dense regions of the atmosphere. A defined coastline is present as are rivers carved by liquid methane. The white areas near the bottom are low clouds:

A bit closer to the surface, Huygens images what looks like mountains piercing what may be a methane ocean:

As Huygens descended, a view of what looks like a coastline was spied prior to landing:

This image is a true color rendition of Titan's surface:

And this image shows the dimensions of the objects in the above image:

And finally, a model of what we think the atmosphere of Titan is like compared to Earth (notice how much farther Titan's atmosphere extends):

Details of the Huygens mission can be found here:

The Huygens Probe Page


Data from the Huygens and Cassini probe have allowed Astronomers to begin the mapping procedures of Titan.
From the JPL Website: "The mosaic is a high resolution close-up of two contrasting regions: dark Shangri-La and bright Xanadu. This view has a resolution of 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) per pixel and is centered at 2.5 degrees north latitude, 145 degrees west longitude, near the feature called Santorini Facula. The mosaic is composed of 10 images obtained on Oct. 28, 2005, each processed to enhance surface detail. It is an orthographic projection, rotated so that north on Titan is up."

 

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