International research team reports on the Earth-like surface of Saturns moon Titan
Panorama of Titan from a height of eight kilometres. The circle shows the region where the space probe "Huygens" landed. The coloured area shows what Titan would look like to an observer standing on its surface. The orange colour comes from the absorption of the short-wave blue and green sunlight in Titans atmosphere. Image: MPS/ University of Arizona/ESA/NASA
Titans surface after landing: the picture is taken from a height of about 40 centimetres. The biggest "stones" are about 15 centimetres in diameter. Image: MPS/ University of Arizona/ESA/NASA
Conditions on Saturns moon Titan, with its dense atmosphere, are similar to those on Earth early in our solar system. Pictures and spectral analysis of Titans surface, recorded by an international scientific team including researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS), show a dried-out "river" landscape. Evaluating the data has now shown that methane on Titan exists in solid, liquid, and gas states, and plays a similar role in Titans atmosphere and on its surface that water plays on Earth. Water ice on Titan congeals to be similar to stone on Earth: it makes up a major component of the Titans surface. "Stones" made presumably largely of water ice show signs of erosion and transport through a liquid. (Nature, Advanced Online Publication, November 30, 2005).
With a diameter of about 5,150 kilometres, Titan is the largest moon of Saturn. It has a dense atmosphere which we mostly cannot see through. Until recently, Titan was one of the few objects in the solar system whose surface was not researched. In 1997, the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn was launched. The NASA spaceship Cassini reached Saturns orbit in 2004 and since then has been investigating the ringed planet and its moons. The Huygens probe of the European Space Agency ESA separated from Cassini at the end of 2004 and landed on Titan on January 14, 2005, after a two-and-a-half hour descent through the atmosphere.
Dr. Andreas Trepte | Max Planck Society
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