Titan: The New World; Cassini Discovers New Moons of Saturn Story dated 19 January 2005
This whole mission (Cassini-Huygens) is just plain neat. Note that this article references the fact that Cassini is nuclear powered without mentioning that they think it's going to kill us all. It seems they have matured a lot since 1997 -- or maybe not since the big money now is in reporting what went right with the mission. Cassini will be orbiting Saturn for the next four years. Huygens is providing the most interest at this time. Titan is the second largest moon in the Solar system (larger than Mercury) and it's atmosphere is too thick to see the surface. Like Earth, Titan's atmosphere is mostly nitrogen but it has a lot more methane than we do. One of the things that makes scientists so excited is that "a lot of the things that are going on in Titan now are very similar to what happened four-and-a-half billion years ago in the Earth's atmosphere." Cassini tried to look at the surface when it flew by last October, but it wasn't very successful. Now that Huygens has landed, it has found a spongy clay-like surface. "[I]n one high altitude image that was taken looking straight down, scientists believe that they can see channels of flowing liquid running perhaps downhill to an area that appears to be a beach and then dark sea beyond." That sea, scientists think, is liquid ethane or methane; "same. . . as the fuel in a gas grill."
In other news, to me, anyway, Cassini has discovered some new moons orbiting Saturn. This is actually older news, and nothing new to people who follow such things, but I've been busy with law school, so I didn't notice. "Cassini has discovered three new moons. Now Saturn has 34." That's a lot, but these moons don't hold a candle to Titan. When I first read about the moon in middle school, I never imagined that we'd land a spacecraft on it in my lifetime.
Subject Matter: Astronomy Science Space Exploration _____________________________________________