Plunging Through Titan's Atmosphere

Nearly a decade after the Huygens probe barrelled through Titan's atmosphere, we're still getting fresh looks at Saturn's moon. This is a peek at Titan from different altitudes during the 147-minute descent on 14 January 2005, from above the clouds to landing in a soft, sandy riverbed.

Images from the descent imager/spectral radiometer in the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, west) at five different altitudes above Titan's surface. Image credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona


From 150 to 60 kilometers, the view is thick, orange-brown clouds of methane and ethane in the nitrogen atmosphere. From 60 to 30 kilometers altitude, the haze blurs the landscape, with only the largest features still visible. As the probe sinks ever-lower, more and more details are revealed in the terrain below while the horizon grows closer.

Titan is fascinating for its thick atmosphere, surface liquids, and complex terrain. Of all the moons in our solar system, this alien world is the most planet-like, a geological mystery that draws curiosity and a lust for more data. For another view of Saturn's hazy moon, here's a video of the nearly 4-hour descent condensed to under 5 minutes.


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