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Full Version: Real Footage of the Cassini landing on Titan
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Titan is the only known moon with an actual atmosphere rather than just trace gases. Like Earth, its atmosphere is rich in molecular nitrogen—98% compared to 78% on our planet—and has the same layered structure (troposphere, mesosphere, etc.), but it’s about 10 times more extensive at 1,200 kilometres thick.
With a surface pressure 50% greater than on Earth and 7 times less gravity, Titan’s atmosphere is so thick and dense that it was long thought the largest natural moon in the solar system. Since its surface was revealed by the Voyager 1 mission in 1980, we know that Titan is in fact 5,150 kilometres in diameter, making it the second largest moon after Jupiter’s Ganymede.
“Titan was long seen as an analogue of primitive Earth,” recalls Athéna Coustenis. “We now know it has very little oxygen, like primitive Earth, but with similarities and differences that make it a unique object worthy of close study. Everything we already knew about its atmosphere was thanks to the Voyager flybys that discovered molecular nitrogen, and to ground observations.
The European Southern Observatory (ESO) also performed observations in the infrared that revealed dark and bright regions on Titan’s surface but were unable to determine their composition. The hypothesis was that there must be hydrocarbon oceans to explain the 1.6% of methane still present today in the atmosphere. Cassini and Huygens showed us that they’re in fact lakes of methane and ethane.”
While the Cassini spacecraft divided its time between Saturn, its moons and rings, Titan was the single focus of the European Huygens mission. The two spacecraft were designed to operate together, Cassini in orbit scanning Titan’s surface and atmosphere, and Huygens accomplishing a descent and landing lasting one day to obtain in-situ data on the surface, each confirming the other’s results.


Until the Cassini mission, little was known about Saturn’s largest moon Titan, save that it was a Mercury-sized world whose surface was veiled beneath a thick, nitrogen-rich atmosphere. But Cassini mapped Titan’s surface, studied its atmospheric reactions, discovered liquid seas there and even sent a probe to the moon’s surface, completely rewriting our understanding of this remarkably Earth-like world.

Key Points
◆ Before 2004, we knew very little about Titan other than its size and that it had a dense, nitrogen-rich atmosphere.
◆ Data from Cassini-Huygens revealed Titan has lakes and seas of liquid methane and ethane, replenished by rain from hydrocarbon clouds.
◆ The mission also provided evidence that Titan is hiding an internal, liquid ocean beneath its surface, likely composed of water and ammonia.