Dr. Aaron Titus | Department of Physics, High Point University
PHY1050      Astronomy of Stars, Galaxies, and the Cosmos
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Cassini mission

The Cassini-Huygens mission is presently exploring Saturn and its moons. In 2004, Cassini began orbiting Saturn. In 2005, it sent the Huygens probe to land on Saturn's moon, Titan.

The first space probes to fly past Saturn were Pioneer (1979), Voyager 1 (1980), and Voyager 2 (1981). But the Cassini-Huygens mission is the first one devoted to studying Saturn, its rings, and its moons.

To learn more about Saturn and the Cassini-Huygens mission in particular, see the mission's web site.

Specifically, read the overview pages including the introduction, mission, instruments, and Huygens Probe.

The landing of the Huygens probe on Titan was extraordinary. Here's a news story from January 14, 2005 that describes the event.

What makes Titan so interesting is that it is bigger than Mercury and is the only moon in the solar system that has a thick atmosphere. Its atmosphere is so thick Voyager 1 and 2 could not see Titan's surface. Thus, it was quite enticing to scientists and certainly provided major impetus for the Cassini-Huygens mission.

Pictures from Huygens as it descended show features that indicate that liquids probably once flowed on its surface. However, those liquids would not have been water because Titan is too cold for water to have existed in liquid form. Titan's surface temperature, measured by the Huygens lander, is 94 kelvin (-179° celsius), and water freezes at 0° celsius (273 kelvin). But rather, these liquds would have been hydrocarbon compounds such as ethane and methane.






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