The European Space Agency’s Huygens probe to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, revealed a world with river beds and deserts that is regularly doused with a rain of liquid methane, researchers said Friday.
“Titan is an extraordinary world having Earth-like geophysical processes operating on exotic materials in very alien conditions,” the Space Agency said.
Photographs from the probe show a terrain broken by ridges, peaks and dark channels that suggest the surface of the moon is subject to the same forces of erosion as the earth’s surface.
"We now have the key to understanding what shapes Titan's landscape," said Dr Martin Tomasko, Principal Investigator for the Descent Imager-Spectral Radiometer (DISR).
"Geological evidence for precipitation, erosion, mechanical abrasion and other fluvial activity says that the physical processes shaping Titan are much the same as those shaping Earth,” he said
The space agency says evidence based on the finding of argon 40 in Titan’s atmosphere indicates the moon has experienced volcanic activity, which produced water, ice and ammonia, rather than lava, as on earth.
The probe touched down on Titan on Jan. 14 and sent back what researchers called a remarkable quantity of images during the hour or so it survived after the landing.
"We are really extremely excited about these results. The scientists have worked tirelessly for the whole week because the data they have received from Huygens are so thrilling. This is only the beginning, these data will live for many years to come and they will keep the scientists very very busy", said Jean-Pierre Lebreton, ESA's Huygens Project Scientist and Mission manager.
The data from the probe was relayed back to earth through NASA’s Cassini mother ship, in orbit around Saturn.
The probe was launched from Cape Canaveral in 1997 in a joint effort between NASA and the European Space Agency.
The Huygens probe sent data to the US space agency NASA's Cassini mother ship above Saturn, which relayed it to the ESA.
The Huygens mission was launched in 1997 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, a joint effort by NASA, ESA and the Italian space agency.