Live From Titan

Before the cable networks interrupt (probably around 2:45 PM), I thought I’d start the cheering section for the Cassini-Huygens mission and the upcoming pictures from the surface of Titan.

As best I can figure it, we’ve launched a rocket to Saturn… made course corrections along the way, then more enroute, to allow it to fly between Saturn’s rings… then launched a Volkswagen sized space probe, carried on this mothership, to the surface of one of Saturn’s moons.

That just gets us there. On its way down to the surface of Titan, Huygens had to transmit data which was received by Cassini still in its Saturn orbit. There was only one chance for this. Then Cassini swung its antennas around and sent the data to Earth.

At this moment it looks like there’s real data coming back, though no one knows what it shows or if it’s useful… and won’t for another hour and a half. After that we should get photos and atmospheric data from the surface of this other planet’s moon.

It is amazing, even before you realize the Huygens probe had to be packed with sensory equipment that would survive its blast into and journey through space, its separation from Cassini (using pyrotechnics to separate the two) and its plunge through the unknown Titan atmosphere&#185.

I have had plenty to say about NASA , most of it bad, in this blog. This is a real positive… a major accomplisment from an engineering standpopint. I’m looking forward to seeing the pictures.

It is amazing what man can do – what should be impossible… if we want to, put the right people on… and throw money at.

&#185 – The main reason we find Titan so interesting is that it does have an atmosphere. There are some scientists who feel it replicates the Earth’s during what could have been the dawn of life.

The Secret That Is Tethys

It is with great interest that I watch the images coming back from the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn. It has been a slow and steady flow of tantalizing snapshots from near space.

As it approached the planet, Cassini produced news in the form of exceptionally detailed images of Saturn, its rings and moon Titan. Mostly, these photos only attract the geekiest among us who seek them out on the Ciclops site (that’s the correct spelling, I’m afraid).

I return to Ciclops on an irregular basis to read and look. Tonight, I saw something unlike anything I’d ever seen before – a beautiful view of Tethys.

Tethys is one of the 30+ moons of Saturn. We really don’t know the exact total and the somewhat fluid definition of what a moon is doesn’t help.

It is not particularly large, only 659 miles across and not incredibly noteworthy… except its density is very similar to that of water. More than likely Tethys is composed mainly of ice. That’s certainly the impression you get when you look at the photos. Icy and frosty are two words I thought of when I first saw it. Though there are craters, and craters within craters, they look frozen in time (pun intended) – unchanged by any internal or external force.

Making the photo even more interesting is the promise that Cassini will be back, making an even closer approach to Tethys in September 2005, ten months from now.

Is it OK to say I’m geeky enough to be excited at the prospect?