Thursday, 20 January 2005

Titan's Surface

From NASA :
Titan's SurfaceHuygens was designed to float in case it landed in a river or lake--but it didn't. After descending by parachute for two and a half hours, the saucer-shaped probe hit solid ground at a speed of 4.5 meters per second (10 mph), experiencing a brief jolting deceleration of 15 Gs. Huygens survived the impact and continued transmitting data for more than one hour after landing.

Among the measurements sent back to Earth were air temperature, pressure, composition and wind speed sampled at points ranging from the top of Titan's atmosphere to the ground. The temperature of the landing site itself was minus 291 degrees F. A "penetrometer" on the bottom of the probe poked into the ground. The soil, it found, has the consistency of wet sand or clay and is covered by a thin crust ... of something. Scientists are still analyzing all these data.
Abd from ESA, the European Space Agency, you can listen to the sounds of Titan.

I can't decide which is more wonderful - that the probe has managed to travel so far and over so many years to get this data, or that we're living in an age where the data is made so immediately available. No SF story even 20 years ago would have predicted that anyone on the planet with access to an "Internet Cafe" could listen to the sounds recorded by a probe as it entered Titan's atmosphere. Or even that "Internet Cafe's" would exist.

On second thoughts, the most amazing thing to me as a systems engineer is that NASA and the ESA could co-operate so perfectly as to pull this whole thing off. Not so much them overcoming the myriad technical difficulties, daunting though they were, but that the management and inter-organisational rivalries didn't stuff things up.

Finally, from Reuters :
Data sent back by the Huygens space probe from the Saturnian moon Titan show a frozen, orange world shrouded in a methane-rich haze with dark ice rocks dotting a riverbed-like surface the consistency of wet sand, scientists said on Saturday.
[...]
"We think this is a material which may have a thin crust, followed by a region of relatively uniform consistency," John Zarnecki, the scientist in charge of experiments on Titan's surface said at a televised news conference from the control center in Germany.

Zarnecki said one of his colleagues had suggested another analogy: creme brulee. "But I don't suppose that will be appearing in any of our papers," he said.
[...]
European Space Agency officials said they would investigate why a second, back-up radio channel failed to transmit some data back from the Huygens probe.

The loss of that signal made it impossible to get immediate results from an experiment that had been intended to track wind direction and strength in Titan's atmosphere, scientists said.

But using data from radio telescopes in Australia, China, Japan, the United States and Europe, Huygens scientists said they expected to be able to piece together similar information over time.
See what I mean about the degree of co-operation being amazing? Even more amazing than the surface being like 'creme brulee' (Titan being a Moon, Green Cheese would be more traditional, after all).

1 comment:

Pat said...

"I can't decide which is more wonderful - that the probe has managed to travel so far and over so many years to get this data, or that we're living in an age where the data is made so immediately available."

Exactly what I was feeling. I downloaded and played the radar and descent audios to my kids as we stared at the pictures. The kids were wide eyed and we played them over a few times, talked about radar and the planets and what it would be like up there. These are exciting days to live in.