Call me a news-isolated American, but I had no idea that the European Space Agency had landed a probe (Huygens) on one of Saturn’s moons, Titan. This happened in 2005. The probe separated from the Cassini spacecraft, then parachuted down to the surface. It took about 6 or 7 years to get there and is still the only earth artifact in the outer solar system. This brave little pioneer took a bunch of probe-y tests, listening to the winds in the atmosphere via an external microphone and examining every thing it could get its little probes on. They designed it so that it could land in liquid as well as on solid ground. Oh, yeah, the place has liquid – not just water, though. Its polar lakes are made up of liquid hydrocarbons. Titan has a methane atmosphere (remember to bring your space suit) and the surface is covered with some kind of thin methane haze. There is also water ice, which appears to make up the actual surface. Scientists have described that as sandy but with the sand made up of tiny water ice particles. The probe took a picture of what look like pebbles, but these also seem to be made of water despite their appearance. Actually, they look exactly like river pebbles. That’s got to make you wonder.
Amazing. This is an enhancement of the one and only photo Huyens sent back. But – but! – scientists could recreate the probe’s landing based on the data it was sending back. They know how it descended and how it landed. NASA made a neat video of this, which had me searching for the YouTube version for an hour.
This makes the science fiction geek in me jump up and howl at the nearest…whatever is in the sky. Hopefully not a satellite because that would be really embarassing.