Huygens Was Right - Titan Is Wet

Dutch Astronomer Christian Huygens wrote:

"Since 'tis certain that Earth and Jupiter have their Water and Clouds, there is no reason why the other Planets should be without them. I can't say that they are exactly of the same nature with our Water; but that they should be liquid their use requires, as their beauty does that they be clear. This Water of ours, in Jupiter or Saturn, would be frozen up instantly by reason of the vast distance of the Sun. Every Planet therefore must have its own Waters of such a temper not liable to Frost."

He wrote these words in 1698 - hundreds of years before the European Space Agency's Huygens probe took the picture shown below. Coming down through the clouds, the probe took pictures of what looked like river channels, beaches and islands - and landed in the mud!


(From Rainbows on Titan)

Huygens discovered Titan in 1655, which is why the probe is named after him. If you've ever tried looking at the moons of Jupiter or Saturn through a small telescope, you would get some idea of the imagination necessary to see them as little worlds.

Titan is too cold, at 290 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, for water to carve channels - the moon is "wet" with liquid methane (the natural gas you use in your home). Or, as Huygens put it, "Waters of such a temper not liable to Frost."

Read many more details at the terrific article at NASA - Rainbows on Titan.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 2/26/2005)

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