Monday, January 17, 2005

‘From the Earth to the Moon’



I don’t usually write about matters of science (not one of my better subjects). But, what I and countless thousands of others are witnessing — beginning late yesterday — is exciting even for me and just may be rather significant.

Photos from the 705-pound probe “Huygens,” now on the surface of the Saturn moon Titan, show a pale orange surface covered by a thin haze of methane and what appears to be a methane sea complete with islands and a mist-shrouded coastline.

The $3.3 billion Cassini-Huygens mission — a joint effort of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian space agency — was launched on Oct. 15, 1997, from Cape Canaveral, Fla., to study Saturn, its spectacular rings and many moons.

What the photos that the Huygens probe showed in its descent onto Titan is that, unlike Mars, which we learned is mostly rust and rock, the Titan moon has liquid flowing on its surface… which space officials say is either “liquid methane, or hydrocarbons that settled out of the haze” that envelops Titan.

The photos actually look strikingly similar to coastlines here on Earth (above photo looks like the California coastline), featuring what even looks like a river delta and rounded rocks in a seabed that bear a resemblance to any area along the Colorado River here on this planet. In fact, in one close-up shot of the rocks in the bed there even appears to be free-flowing liquid (below).



Also in the top photo, there is what looks like a canal leading down to the seabed and the distinguished coastline (no 7-11 spotted, however).

The photos are that stunning.

Don’t pack your bags for the Titan colony just yet… scientists say these photos only show something that is “similar to a young Earth” and that by studying Titan it could give us clues as to how life arose here.

But, the significant part of this discovery is that Titan is now the only other planet/moon known to have free-flowing liquid.

One shot taken from an altitude of 10 miles showed dark lines that suggested stream beds carved by liquid flowing into a dark area suspected to be a sea of liquid methane — with light areas in the dark that could be islands.

Over the next couple of days the pictures will be more plentiful and better refined. The ones so far have been breathtaking.

I suppose the photos could be more interesting…

Especially if there is something staring back at us in one of them.

7 Comments:

At 1:31 PM, Blogger The Writer said...

Popular post.

 
At 1:37 PM, Blogger SheaNC said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 1:40 PM, Blogger SheaNC said...

[edited for bad typing. Geez...]
I am blown away that this, along with our exploration of mars, has occurred in my lifetime. Quite amazing, really.

Also, I just noticed you added me to your links (thank you). I'd be happy if I could get as much traffic as you do! Also, I am proud to be included with the one called "left-wing loonies" :) I'll try not to let you down there!

 
At 5:44 PM, Blogger Kerry R. Fox said...

SheaNC,

"I just noticed you added me to your links (thank you)."

You are quite welcome. I figured I owed you because you stop by here as much as you do.

"I am proud to be included with the one called "left-wing loonies" :)"

Yeah, but I also have "right-wing loonies" in there for balance. I guess you can say I'm "fairly unbalanced."

"I'll try not to let you down there!"

I think we've only disagreed on one subject so far, so you are doing very well...:-)

 
At 9:25 PM, Blogger cvcvcvc said...

It's a shame that we have evolved to the point where we can send a space craft to Titan but still too unevolved to live in peace with each other here on earth.


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At 9:51 AM, Blogger karyn said...

I was up at 2:30 AM my time on the morning of touchdown to watch it all live. Tremendous stuff. And think about it, $3 billion to travel 3 bilion kilometers: that's just $1.00/kilometer -- less than NYC taxi fare.

Of course it took over 25 years to develop the project.

 
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