Saturn moon 
Space-Faring Robot Probe/Lander

Report by SFRSA Mediamister 
Cliff Thompson





"After flying 2 billion miles, a probe to Saturn's moon will attempt what has never been tried before. The Huygens' probe will plunge into Titan and its mysterious atmosphere on Jan. 14, 2005...Joined...for the last seven years, Cassini and Huygens finally separated Dec. 24 PST after a...2.2 billion mile... journey through our solar system. While the Cassini spacecraft continues its four-year tour of the Saturnian system, the Huygens probe will plunge into Titan and its mysterious atmosphere on Jan. 14, 2005. " -- RedNova News

"On Friday, Jan. 14, the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Huygens probe is scheduled to descend through the mysterious atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan…Huygens descends into Titan's atmosphere (Descent begins 5 a.m. EST)…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...During its descent, Huygens' camera will capture more than 1,100 images, while the Probe's other five instruments will sample Titan's atmosphere and determine its composition…Data from Huygens will be relayed to the Cassini Orbiter passing overhead. The data will be stored onboard Cassini's Solid State recorders (SSR) for playback to Earth…...NASA TV/webcast will carry ESA TV during the Titan events...Check the TV schedule for full details (all times listed are in Eastern Time). " -- NASA Cassini-Huygens Mission


The live multi-session web cast began at midnight on Friday, Jan. 14, 2005, ending mid afternoon, alternately switching between broadcasting from both the European Space Agency (ESA) and Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) Mission Control Centers. To monitor the events remotely by computer, I set up the ad hoc software control panel "Dashboard" pictured above -  the upper left panel is the NASA TV display switching between ESA & JPL, to the right of which are the ESA descent sequence event & NASA TV broadcast timelines, while the windows bottom right provide links to other NASA TV sources as well as a view through the ESA Mission Control WebCam. As the webcast began, the Huygens probe, which had separated from the Cassini spacecraft the previous Christmas, had traveled to within a few thousand kilometers of Saturn's moon Titan. At 2 a.m. the descent sequence of operations began, which was expected to take around 150 minutes to reach the surface. The Wok-shaped probe deftly executed the sequence of operations, which started with entering the upper atmosphere, followed by a series of parachute deployments, onboard scientific equipment & camera activation's, ending in the final approach with switching on "headlights", then touchdown. Success at each maneuver was measured by detecting a signal sent by the craft, the continual reception of which caused numerous jumps for joy at ESA and JPL. The execution was so flawless that even the effective time on the ground, which was expected to be only a few minutes or at the most .5 -2 hours, saw the probe continuing to transmit well over 2.5 hours. The high point of the mission came when the probe, which had taken numerous scientific measurements and photographs on the way down, and also at the touchdown site, began transmitting data around sunrise here, arriving before noon and including the first stunning pictures. The very first picture, rather than depicting a familiar cratered and rocky surface, instead portrayed a scene very reminiscent of Earth, a hilly area crisscrossed with numerous stream channels running downhill to a shoreline beyond which lay islands.  The second picture resembled areas of Montana where, off flat planes rise rugged mountains peppered with tall columnar buttes. Scientists noted that this truly alien world did not appear dead but rather was an active surface interacting with its atmosphere. To document & summarize the presentations in pictures, taken from print screens of the webcast, the sessions would begin with a splash screen from the Space Agency (NASA, JPL, switchover), then switch to Mission Control, either ESA (one, two, three, fullscreen) or JPL (one, two). When Huygens reached Titan, the probe worked out its descent trajectory, then began executing its descent sequence events, with milestones reported at several news briefings (fullscreen, two). As the  "big event", downloading Huygens data, approached, the waiting was intense (one, fullscreen), with it's timely arrival a cause for jubilation at Mission Control & at the Briefing (one, two). Excitement, wonder & awe reached a peak when the download splash screen introduced the 1st picture from Titan, taken during the descent profile , en route to the landing site. Additional pictures, with more coming, including some in stereo/3D (neighboring Phobe), can be found  on the Cassini-Huygens websites  at  ESA, JPL (Multimedia, Art) & NASA. Also, as noted on the ESA Portal, "...Sounds heard by Huygens' microphones...taken at different times during the descent...what a traveller on board Huygens would have heard...", can be listened to at the "Sounds of an alien world" website. The Huygens Instruments package is described in detail on the ESA Huygens instruments web page. A 1st summary of what's been learned will be contained in an ESA 1/21 results update report press conference from ESA HQ in Paris at 11am CET (3am PST)*, carried over ESA TV & NASA TV live streaming webcast (schedule). 

During the course of the unfolding Titan mission presentations, several striking public outreach works of space art and music were introduced. The BBC's "Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets" Programme (One Two), uses impressive computer graphics in telling the story of a team of astronauts engaged in a grand tour of the Solar System as we know it today (the story is available in  European Union countries on DVD). "Music2Titan" is a number of modern musical compositions making up a soundtrack for the mission, commissioned utilizing talented French musicians, with the songs placed on a CD mounted in the Huygens probe, now resting upon Titan at the Huygens landing site, as reported in ESA News (1, 2; songs available from iTunes Music2Titan page (screen shot, sample song mp3URL (requires iTunes for Mac + PC (free))). Near the end of the presentation ESA/JPL ran a sneak-preview animation of an exotic future Titan mission  - a slowly roving aerial platform in the form of a blimp, which raises and lowers, by tether, a tractor-treaded robotic rover, dropping off and picking up the vehicle while leisurely cruising Titan's environs  (Aerover Blimp).

The stunning success of the mission, 25 years in the making, involving several of the world's top space agencies, and including participation by 19 countries, was hailed as the greatest multinational space exploration project in human history to date.


ESA:                Overview, Home (pop down left frame  "Watch The Event" menu)
Exploratorium: Archive





3D/Stereo images (see also 12/01/05)


"Mike Zawistowski has created a 3D rendering of Titan to provide us with an approximate rendering of what Titan might look like, based on the actual data, created with Terragen. Note that the coloring in the [1st picture] a...better, more realistic color scheme ..[the 2nd]...has a different viewpoint..."



"Kevin also noticed that some of the images have been taken within a short time interval. He has selected two images that you can use to view Titan in stereo. Look at the following image, but focus your eyes such that the images collide into a new, 3d image. You'll see that the dark mountain range in the middle of the image sits in front the of the other mountains behind it."

3D red/blue anaglyph


"An anonymous submitter has sent in the following anaglyph, so you can view titan with red/blue glasses, in stereo."

"Titan rendered" "Have you seen Titan?"

"On Titan there are Methane rivers...and probably lakes...if you were a surfer, you'd find the waves were 20-30 feet high...[also] rains Methane...but due to the very different conditions there [gravity, atmospheric pressure, temperature)...raindrops are the size of marbles... but fall at the speed of snowflakes...", Jeff Cuzzi, NASA-ESA Cassini-Huygens Planetary Rings Scientist
"Exploring the Lord of the Rings: Cassini at Saturn" --Silicon Valley Astronomy Lecture Series, Foothill College January 26, 2005

"Winds on Titan are found to be flowing in the direction of Titan's rotation (from west to east) at nearly all altitudes. The maximum speed of roughly 120 metres per second (430 km/h) was measured about ten minutes after the start of the descent, at an altitude of about 120 km. The winds are weak near the surface and increase slowly with altitude up to about 60 km...." 
"First measurement of Titan’s winds from Huygens
" --ESA News

"...Titan Mosaic...made from 16 images. The individual images have been specially processed to remove effects of Titan's hazy atmosphere and to improve visibility of the surface..."..." 
"Titan Mosaic - Feb 2005" --JPL

"Cassini Radar Titan Movie...strips of data...the blue area represents the coverage observed during the Feb. 15 flyby. The movie zooms into several interesting areas on Titan, including a giant crater the size of Iowa, an area with bright hills and ridges surrounded by a dark plain, and a smaller crater with a blanket of material surrounding it, possibly due to ejected material being thrown out of the crater after an impact....." 
"Cassini Radar Titan Movie" --JPL

"...Titan, has a surface shaped largely by Earth-like processes of tectonics, erosion, winds, and perhaps volcanism...Among the new discoveries is what may be a long river, roughly 1,500 kilometers long (930 miles)..." 
"Cassini Images of Titan Reveal an Active, Earth-like World" --JPL

"...Cassini Continues Inspection of Smoggy Moon...Cassini flew by Titan on March 31. Its multiple instruments continue to provide new views of the haze-enshrouded world..." 
"Cassini Continues Inspection of Smoggy Moon", "New Titan Territory" --JPL

"...During a close flyby of Titan on March 31, 2005, Cassini's cameras got their best view to date of the region east of the bright Xanadu Region...the images...reveal new features...Within the bright terrain at the top of the mosaic, just left of center, lies a very intriguing feature: a strikingly dark spot from which diffuse dark material appears to extend to the northeast. The origin of this feature is not yet known..." 
"Titan Mosaic - East of Xanadu" --JPL

the outer layer of the thick, hazy atmosphere is brimming with complex hydrocarbons ..." 
"Organic Materials Spotted High Above Titan's Surface" --JPL

"...the bright area to the north...and west is higher than the rest of the terrain, and covered in dark lines that appear to be drainage channels. These lead down to what appears to be a shoreline with river deltas and sand bars...The current interpretation of these lines is that they are cut by flowing liquid methane..." 
"First Full Mosaics of Titan's Surface" --JPL

"...Titan shows an unusual bright spot that has scientists mystified...approximately the size and shape of West Virginia, is just southeast of the bright region called Xanadu...the...region may be a "hot" spot -- an area possibly warmed by a recent asteroid impact or by a mixture of water ice and ammonia from a warm interior, oozing out of an ice volcano onto colder surrounding terrain..." 
"Odd Spot on Titan Baffles Scientists" --JPL

"... A recent flyby of Saturn's hazy moon Titan by the Cassini spacecraft has revealed evidence of a possible volcano, which could be a source of methane in Titan's a circular feature roughly 30 kilometers (19 miles) in diameter that does not resemble any features seen on Saturn's other icy moons. Scientists interpret the feature as an "ice volcano," a dome formed by upwelling icy plumes that release methane into Titan's atmosphere...a bright circular feature about 30 kilometers (19 miles) in diameter, with two elongated wings extending westward. This structure resembles volcanoes on Earth and Venus, with overlapping layers of material from a series of flows...scientists clearly see a dark feature that resembles a caldera, a bowl-shaped structure formed above chambers of molten material. The material erupting from the volcano might be a methane-water ice mixture combined with other ices and hydrocarbons..."
"Titan Volcano" -- NASA
"Scientists Discover Possible Titan Volcano" --JPL

"Scientists are fascinated by a dark, lake-like feature recently...with smooth, shore-like boundaries unlike any seen previously on Titan...The suspected lake area measures 234 kilometers long by 73 kilometers wide (145 miles by 45 miles), about the size of Lake Ontario, on the U.S. Canadian border...The feature lies in Titan's cloudiest region, which is presumably the most likely site of recent methane rainfall. This, coupled with the shore-like smoothness of the feature's perimeter makes it hard for scientists to resist speculation about what might be filling the lake...'It's possible that some of the storms in this region are strong enough to make methane rain that reaches the surface,'...'Given Titan's cold temperatures, it could take a long time for any liquid methane collecting on the surface to evaporate. So it might not be surprising for a methane-filled lake to persist for a long time,'..."

"NASA's Cassini Reveals Lake-Like Feature on Titan" -- NASA
"Land of Lakes?" -- JPL


"The spacecraft is expected to return high-resolution images of Titan's high southern latitudes and will have a rare opportunity to study the interaction between Titan and the magnetosphere of Saturn in an exotic region"

"Titan Flyby - Aug. 22, 2005" -- JPL

"Titan's equatorial latitudes are distinctly different in character from its south polar region..."
"Dawn at the Huygens Site" -- JPL

"...summer does bring storm clouds and presumably rain to Titan's south polar region. The observed persistence of convective storm activity in the region during the southern Titan summer has led scientists to speculate that the dark, footprint-shaped feature near the upper left could be a past or present reservoir for Titan's methane rains...This series of three Cassini narrow-angle camera images, centered on the pole, shows the evolution of bright clouds in the region over the course of two hours...The images in this movie sequence were taken using a combination of spectral filters sensitive to wavelengths of polarized infrared light, allowing Cassini to see through the obscuring smog of Titan's atmosphere and down to the surface..."
"Clouds in the Distance" -- JPL

"NASA's Cassini Looking for Lakes on Titan...Informally dubbed "Looking for lakes in all the right places," the Sept. 7 encounter with Titan focuses on the moon's high southern latitudes, an area where Cassini's cameras have seen some possible indications of lakes."

"Titan Flyby - Sept. 7, 2005" -- JPL

"During its Sept. 7, 2005, flyby of Titan, Cassini acquired images of territory...Once...only as "the H" because the region looks something like the letter on its side...The northern branch of the H is now called "Fensal," while the southern branch is known as "Aztlan."...Fensal is littered with small "islands" ranging in size from 5 to 40 kilometers (3 to 25 miles) across. These landforms currently are thought to be water ice upland areas, surrounded by shallower terrain that is filled-in with dark particulate material from the atmosphere..."

"Monitoring 'Fensal-Aztlan'" -- JPL

"Images returned during Cassini's recent flyby of Titan show captivating evidence of what appears to be a large shoreline cutting across the smoggy moon's southern hemisphere. Hints that this area was once wet, or currently has liquid present, are evident...The images show what looks like a shoreline dividing a distinct bright and dark region roughly 1,700 kilometers long by 170 kilometers wide (1,060 by 106 miles)...'This is the area where liquid or a wet surface has most likely been present, now or in the recent past...'Titan probably has episodic periods of rainfall or massive seepages of liquid from the ground.'...Bay-like features also lead scientists to speculate that the bright-dark boundary is most likely a shoreline...'We also see a network of channels that run across the bright terrain, indicating that fluids, probably liquid hydrocarbons, have flowed across this least two distinct types of drainage and channel formation on Titan. Some...are long and deep, with angular patterns and few tributaries, suggesting that fluids flow over great distances. By contrast, others show channels that form a denser network that might indicate rainfall...'It looks as though fluid flowed in these channels, cutting deeply into the icy crust of Titan. Some of the channels extend over 100 kilometers (60 miles). Some of them may have been fed by springs, while others are more complicated networks that were likely filled by rainfall.'...Titan has an environment somewhat similar to that of Earth before biological activity forever altered the composition of Earth's atmosphere..."

"Cassini Radar Images Show Dramatic Shoreline on Titan" -- JPL
"Titan Flyby - Sept. 7, 2005" -- JPL

"Titan's atmosphere is about 5 per cent methane, and Chris McKay of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffet Field, California, thinks that some of it could be coming from methanogens, or methane-producing microbes...the microbes would breathe hydrogen rather than oxygen, and eat organic molecules drifting down from the upper atmosphere...their breathing would deplete hydrogen levels near the surface to one-thousandth that of the rest of the atmosphere. Detecting this difference would be striking evidence for life, because no known non-biological process on Titan could affect hydrogen concentrations as much."
"Has Huygens Found Life On Titan?" -- as proposed by NASA Ames Research Center, Space Science Division, planetary scientist / astrobiologist Dr. Christopher P. McKay, (one of the world's leading researchers studying Titan, co-Investigator on the Titan probe atmospheric structure experiment (HASI), with broader interests focus on understanding the relationship between the chemical and physical evolution of the solar system and the origin of life), in his paper recently submitted to the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) official publication "Icarus", (summarized in the New Scientist article link above "Has Huygens Found Life On Titan?"), mentioned at The Planetary Society talk by Dr. McKay, "Titan Through the Eyes of Huygens: A Quiet Little Place With a Nice Atmosphere", September 27, 7:30 p.m., Randall Museum, 199 Museum Way, San Francisco, California


"Cassini...mapped the region where the Huygens probe landed...two images...a composite of the imaging camera and infrared data...and...synthetic aperture radar image..."

"Pinpointing Huygens Landing Site" -- JPL
"Titan Flyby - Oct. 28, 2005" -- JPL

"Naming New Lands...the spacecraft's narrow-angle camera acquired multiple images that were combined to create the mosaic presented..."

"Titan's Ultraviolet Haze" -- JPL

"Naming New Lands...the spacecraft's narrow-angle camera acquired multiple images that were combined to create the mosaic presented..."
"September Flyby" "October Flyby" -- JPL

"NASA Announces Joint News Briefing [with European Space Agency (ESA)] to Discuss Titan..."
"Huygens Landing Site Movie" --JPL
"Huygens Descent Sequence...artist's concept [animation]..." --JPL

"New findings from Titan...Results from Huygens...released today, coinciding with online publication in Nature and Science, are available now..."
"Overview The Huygens results"    "audio interview"
"Highlights of ESA’s Huygens mission"

"Speeches at the ESA Press Conference...on new findings by the Huygens...Paris 30 November."
"Watch the conference"

"... a second ionospheric layer and possible lightning were among the surprises found by the Huygens Atmospheric Structure Instrument (HASI) during the descent to Titan’s surface...HASI may...have seen the signature of lightning. Several electrical field impulse events were observed during the descent, caused by possible lightning activity in the spherical waveguide formed by the surface of Titan and the inner boundary of its ionosphere."
"Titan’s turbulence surprises scientists"

"The infrared reflectance spectrum...measured for the surface is unlike any other in the Solar System. There are signs of organic materials such as 'tholins'...However, the most intriguing feature in the surface spectrum is an infrared signature of a material not matched by any combination of spectra of ices and complex organics found on Earth"
"Rain, winds and haze during the descent to Titan"

"Tide out on Titan? A soft solid surface for Huygens"

"Titan's aerosols play an important role in determining atmospheric thermal structure...of prime importance...ammonia is not present as a gas in the atmosphere, hence the aerosols must include the results of chemical reactions that may have produced complex organic molecules. They are not simply condensates...Aerosol particles...are the end-products of a complex organic chemistry which is important in astrobiology. Indeed, Titan offers the possibility to observe chemical pathways involving molecules that may have been the building blocks of life on Earth. "
"First 'in situ' composition measurements made in Titan's atmosphere" --ESA

"A stereo pair of images (insert) was acquired from the Huygens descent imager/spectral radiometer."
"Dark Plains on Titan" -- JPL

"Cassini's infrared views of Titan have revealed significant scientific information."
"Revealing Titan" -- JPL

"Cassini Caps off Year with Titan Flyby"
"Titan -- T9"


"Titan’s organic chemistry may be like that of the primitive Earth around 4000 million years ago, and may hold clues about how life began on our planet."
"The Huygens landing: one year on"  --ESA


"New views of the most distant touchdown ever made by a spacecraft are being released today by NASA, the European Space Agency and the University of Arizona. The movies show the dramatic descent of the Huygens probe to the surface of Saturn's moon Titan on Jan. 14, 2005."."
"NASA and Partners Release New Movies of Titan" -- JPL

"Xanadu, an Australia-sized, bright region...surrounded by darker terrain, reminiscent of a free-standing landmass. At the region's western edge, dark sand dunes give way to land cut by river networks, hills and valleys. These narrow river networks flow onto darker areas, which may be lakes."
"Cassini Reveals Titan's Xanadu Region To Be an Earth-like Land" -- JPL



(*Note: Paris time is Central European Time (CET), which is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) minus one (GMT - 1) and for California in Winter is Pacific Standard Time (PST) minus nine (PST - 9), so subtract 9 from Paris time to get California in Winter time. (How it works: "PST - Pacific Standard Time...Note that during summer daylight saving time/summer time is observed, and PDT is used instead....PDT - Pacific Daylight Time...Note that PDT is a daylight saving time/summer time zone. It is generally only used during the summer...during the winter PST is used instead..." -- (world time converter)).