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The sirens of Titan

September 23, 2006

I guess we all read Kurt Vonnegut’s 1959 novel when we were young. I have clearer memories of Slaughterhouse-5 and Mother Night.

But this is the real thing, the actual surface of Titan, filmed by the Huygens probe’s cameras over a year ago.

Clip commentary:

This movie was built with data collected during the 147-minute plunge through Titan’s thick orange-brown atmosphere to a soft sandy riverbed by the European Space Agency’s Huygens Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer on Jan. 14, 2005,

In 4 minutes and 40 seconds, the movie shows what the probe “saw” within the few hours of the descent and the landing. On approach, Titan appeared as just a little disk in the sky among the stars, but after landing, the probe’s camera resolved little grains of sand millions of times smaller than Titan.

At first, the Huygens camera just saw fog over the distant surface. The fog started to clear only at about 60 kilometers (37 miles) altitude, making it possible to resolve surface features as large as 100 meters (328 feet). Only after landing could the probe’s camera resolve the little grains of sand. The movie provides a glimpse of such a huge change of scale.

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