Feeds

Titan hangs on to its secrets

Surface images reveal much, but not all

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Cassini's close fly-by of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, has left scientists with no clear idea of what to expect when the Huygens probe lands on the alien world, despite the amazingly detailed images they now have of the surface.

Close up and personal on Titan, ESA

Pictures from Cassini's fly-by revealed clearly delineated areas of dark and light on the moon's surface; but interpreting the features is a challenge. Scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) think the lighter areas indicate a rough surface, and the dark areas are smooth. The surface shows few signs of impacts, indicating that it is geologically young. The Huygens team, headed by Professor John Zarnecki of the Open University, says that further analysis of the visual and radar data should help clarify things.

Data from Cassini's electron spectrometer contain clues to the composition of Titan's upper atmosphere. Dr Andrew Coates of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory in London told the BBC that the data contains the "tell-tale finger prints of photoelectrons and Auger electrons" needed for this analysis.

The Huygens probe in Titan's atmosphere, ESA

On Christmas day Cassini will despatch the Huygens probe, which will begin its descent through the atmosphere on 14 January 2005. The ESA says the streak of light created when the craft heats up in the atmosphere might even be visible from Earth.

The odds are against spotting the probe as it streaks across the sky of Titan. But we are in with a chance: according to the ESA, "the best location to be looking from happens to coincide with the largest single telescope in the world: the 10-metre Keck telescope". Keck sits on the summit of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on Hawaii, and will be perfectly aligned with Titan when the probe hits the atmosphere. ®

Related stories

China plans five-day space mission
Cassini glimpses Titan's face
Cassini gives Iapetus a wide berth

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.