20 years of planning, and a 2billion-mile voyage lasting seven years. No, not our interminable journey, although it may seem like that at times, this one has come to an end, in part. The Cassini-Huygens mission has successfully landed a probe on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
Data was successfullly collected and transmitted for longer than scientists had hoped and will be the subject of scrutiny for many months to come.
Meanwhile, photos taken by the Huygens probe are online, from a height of 8 miles and from the surface itself, showing clear evidence of the presence of liquid and possible cloud formations.
There’s also a sound files created from recordings taken during the descent through the atmosphere and radar soundings.
The importance of the mission to the scientific community is due to both the presence and the composition of the atmosphere. As David Southwood, “the director of science at the European Space Agency, who began work on the mission in 1982” told the Guardian, “Titan takes us back to the conditions that probably existed in our early Earth. All the ingredients are there for life except one: oxygen”
“The atmosphere of Titan is a cooking pot already. There is weather on Titan. We want to know if there’s lightning on Titan, not just out of curiosity about whether these things occur elsewhere, but because long ago that is how our Earth was; that’s how things got started. Maybe it all led to this point, where we go back to look at the beginning.”
A major difference, however, between the conditions of early Earth and those on Titan is the temperature – Titan’s surface is “a landscape dominated by frozen hydrocarbons and an ambient temperature of -180C (-292F).”