The Huygens probe has been able to penetrate the atmosphere of Titan, land, and survey the surface of Saturns most important moon. The highly successful Cassini/Huygens mission began sending data back to earth in the spring of 2005, and since that date, man has documented volumes of data concerning this moon once a mystery to mankind. While Titan is uninhabitable by man, “Scientists believe that Titans environment may be similar to that of the Earths before life began putting oxygen into the atmosphere” (Hamilton). The image of primordial earth has added to Titans mystique as the Cassini orbiter continues to map and reveal the surface and composition of Saturns moon, Titan.
Understanding the geophysical characteristics of Titan begins with a picture of its chemical composition and the temperature range that it exists in. The atmosphere of Titan, the only moon in the solar system to have a dense atmosphere, is composed primarily of nitrogen and methane (Ocean May Exist). There are also trace amounts of organic chemicals in the atmosphere, though the conditions are far from ideal for the creation of life. The moon has a gravitational force of about 15 percent of the earth and the temperature hovers around a cold minus 289 degrees Fahrenheit (Britt, “Smog on Saturns Moon”). In 2002, scientists studying Titan believed that “High in the Titan sky, solar radiation helps fuel chemical reactions that break the nitrogen and methane down into other substances. Eventually, lower down, some of these molecules serve as seeds for clouds. Methane condenses on the seeds to form rain or hailstones that fall to the surface” (Britt, “Smog on Saturns Moon”). Indeed, three years later the Huygens probe would land during a methane rain as it broke through the atmosphere on Titan. These early and initial observations of Titan created more questions than they answered. What was the source of all the methane on the planet? In a solar system that is .routinely impacted by objects from space, why was Titan’ surface relatively smooth, as if it had escaped the force of impacts? The Cassini mission and the Huygens probe would provide the data necessary to begin to answer these questions.