Huygens Lands on Titan

The Huygens lander has safely touched down on the surface of Titan. Nothing else has been received as of yet other than carrier signals, but data relayed through Cassini will begin arriving in about two hours. If all went well, they should be getting pictures, spectral data on the chemical composition of the air and surface, and maybe even sound from the alien environment of the Fuzzy Moon. SpaceflightNow has a comprehensive pre-landing article.

For those of you not of an astronomical bent, Titan is Saturn’s largest moon, and the second largest moon in the Solar System. It is unique as the only moon with its own significant atmosphere: a cold, dense fog of nitrogen, methane, and other organic compounds. I call Titan the “Fuzzy Moon” because photos of the moon taken by various space probes in visible light always come out vague and fuzzy, owing to the thick, diffuse atmosphere. Photos taken by Cassini on other wavelengths show a relatively flat, mottled, nonreflective surface, indicating some kind of dynamic action at work. While some scientists theorize that Titan may harbor oceans — or at least puddles — of liquid hydrocarbons, I’m more with the theory that the flat, nonreflective surface could be an oily hydrocarbon slush. We’ll soon know!

There’s an enthusiastic Metafilter thread going on the topic.

Update, 1245 (EST): The probe is well, the downlink established, the data being transferred, but it’ll be a few more hours before we get to see any pictures from Titan. The guys at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, who made the DISR Package which took the photos, say they’ll immediately post the first raw image data received to this page. Don’t all go there and start refreshing your browsers all at once.