Cassini-Huygens results on Titan’s surface

Athena Coustenis, Mathieu Hirtzig

Abstract


Our understanding of Titan, Saturn’s largest satellite, has recently been considerably enhanced, thanks to the Cassini-Huygens mission. Since the Saturn Orbit Injection in July 2004, the probe has been harvesting new insights of the Kronian system. In particular, this mission orchestrated a climax on January 14, 2005 with the descent of the Huygens probe into Titan’s thick atmosphere. The orbiter and the lander have provided us with picturesque views of extraterrestrial landscapes, new in composition but reassuringly Earth-like in shape. Thus, Saturn’s largest satellite displays chains of mountains, fields of dark and damp dunes, lakes and possibly geologic activity. As on Earth, landscapes on Titan are eroded and modeled by some alien hydrology: dendritic systems, hydrocarbon lakes, and methane clouds imply periods of heavy rainfalls, even though rain was never observed directly. Titan’s surface also proved to be geologically active – today or in the recent past – given the small number of impact craters listed to date, as well as a few possible cryovolcanic features. We attempt hereafter a synthesis of the most significant results of the Cassini-Huygens endeavor, with emphasis on the surface.


Keywords


planets and satellites: Titan, space vehicles

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Print ISSN: 1674-4527

Online ISSN: 2397-6209