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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 January 2005, 14:51 GMT
Titan mission 'resounding success'
By Paul Rincon
BBC News science reporter in Darmstadt, Germany

Composite image of Titan's surface from an altitude of around 8km (5 miles) (Courtesy: European Space Agency)
Scientists think the probe has landed in a flat area
Scientists have released the first results from the Huygens probe's journey to Saturn's moon Titan, along with amazing new images.

They also played sounds recorded as Huygens dived towards the surface.

Measurements suggest the area it landed on has the consistency of "creme brulee" and may have once been flooded.

The European Space Agency said it would launch an enquiry into the loss of one of two information channels during transmission of the probe's data.

But overall the mission has been a resounding success, scientists agreed.

Professor David Southwood, Esa's director of science, was emotional as he read from the poem On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer by John Keats to sum up the team's sense of exhilaration at exploring a new world.

"It continues to reassure us that people working together in interpersonal relationships that are dedicated to a goal can produce incredible, incredible things. And that's what has happened here," said Alphonso Diaz, associate administrator for science at the US space agency (Nasa).

Tangerine sky

The colour image shows the surface of Titan is bright orange with a tangerine sky, with "boulders" probably formed from ice.

Impression of the Huygens probe landing on Titan
1. HASI - measures physical and electrical properties of Titan's atmosphere
2. GCMS - identifies and measures chemical species abundant in moon's 'air'
3. ACP - draws in and analyses atmospheric aerosol particles
4. DISR - images descent and investigates light levels
5. DWE - studies direction and strength of Titan's winds
6. SSP - determines physical properties of moon's surface

Aerial photographs from the descent show drainage channels apparently flowing off land into what seems to be a dark ocean, possibly composed of some tarry substance.

It also shows a bank of what could be methane fog shrouding the landscape.

Professor John Zarnecki, principal investigator on Huygens' surface science package (SSP) said the area where Huygens landed appeared to have a thin crust that overlies a material with more uniform consistency something like wet sand.

"Maybe this suggests it was wet not so long ago and hasn't penetrated so far into the surface," said Dr Marty Tomasko, head of the Huygens imaging instrument.

Scientists also unveiled measurements of the chemical methane in Titan's atmosphere. The chemistry of Titan is thought to be similar to that of Earth 4.6 billion years ago and could provide clues to how life first arose on our planet.

The loss of the data channel has resulted in about 350 images being returned by the probe instead of over 700.

It will also slow down the speedy return of data from an experiment to measure winds on Titan.

Lightning strikes

Professor Southwood said the human error that had caused the problem was "an Esa responsibility".

"There is some aspect of humanity in every godlike occurrence. And there was a blemish yesterday," said Professor Southwood. "That's the cosmos reminding us we're just human."

He reminded the audience that there was an abundance of data so far for scientists to work through.

The sounds of Titan's stormy atmosphere were recorded with an onboard microphone, and scientists hope they might even hear lightning strikes when they analyse the data.

The Cassini spacecraft arrived at Saturn in July 2004.

It released the Huygens probe towards Titan on 25 December.

The European-built craft entered Titan's atmosphere at an altitude of 1,270km (789 miles) at about 1000 GMT on Friday.

Scientists reveal the first images from the probe


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