Highlights of ESA’s Huygens mission
After a seven-year journey on board the NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini spacecraft, ESA’s Huygens probe was released on 25 December 2004. It reached the upper layer of Titans atmosphere on 14 January 2005 and landed on the surface after a parachute descent of 2 hours and 28 minutes.
Clear images of the surface were obtained below 40 km altitude – revealing an extraordinary world, resembling Earth in many respects, especially in meteorology, geomorphology and fluvial activity. The images show strong evidence for erosion due to liquid flows, possibly methane, on Titan.
The probe descended over the boundary between a bright icy terrain eroded by fluvial activity, and a darker area that looked like a dry river- or lakebed. Huygens landed in the dark area. Water-ice pebbles up to a few centimetres in diameter were scattered near the landing site, and the surface here was found to have the consistency of loose wet sand.
Winds were found to blow predominantly in the direction of Titan’s rotation, west to east winds, with speeds up to 450 km/h above an altitude of 120 km. The winds decreased with decreasing altitude and then and changed direction close to the surface. An unexpected layer of high wind-shear was encountered between altitudes of 100 and 60 km.
Huygens also surprised the scientists by finding a second lower ionospheric layer, between 140 km and 40 km, with electrical conductivity peaking near 60 km, and its instruments may also have recorded the signature of lightning.
‘Haze’ was detected all the way down to the surface, contrary to the predictions of pre-Huygens models. It was predicted that the atmosphere would be clear of ‘haze’ in the lower stratosphere, below around 60 km. Fortunately, the haze was transparent enough for good images of the surface to be obtained below 40 km.
Huygens enabled studies of the atmosphere and surface, including the first in-situ sampling of the organic chemistry and the aerosols below 150 km. These confirmed the presence of a complex organic chemistry in both the gas and the solid phase, which reinforces the idea that Titan is a promising place to observe chemical pathways involving molecules that may have been the building blocks of life on Earth.
Argon 40 was also detected at the surface and its presence indicates that Titan has experienced in the past, and is most likely still experiencing today, internal geological activity.
Franco Bonacina | alfa
The most recent press releases about innovation >>>
Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...