On Jan. 14, 2005, the Huygens probe will plow into the orange atmosphere of Saturns moon, Titan, becoming the first spacecraft to attempt to land on a moon in our solar system since the Soviet Unions Luna 24 touched down on Earths moon in 1976.
Though scientists hope that Huygens will survive the plunge, it will be flying blind through hydrocarbon haze and methane clouds to a surface that could consist of seven-kilometer-high ice mountains and liquid methane seas.
Thats the picture that emerges from a series of articles - half of them by University of California, Berkeley, researchers - published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters last month and detailing what scientists know to date about the surface, atmosphere and magnetic field of Titan. This view sets the stage for an analysis of new data soon to arrive from the Cassini spacecraft and Huygens probe. "These (journal) papers really give a state-of-the-art picture of Titan, before Cassini goes into orbit around Saturn and the Huygens probe goes into Titans atmosphere," said Imke de Pater, a professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley who wrote the introductory paper in the series and co-authored four of the nine papers. The papers came out of a meeting De Pater hosted last November at UC Berkeley to discuss what has been gleaned to date about the moon from optical, infrared and radar telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the twin Keck Telescopes in Hawaii.
Robert Sanders | EurekAlert!
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