Science Interviews

Interview

Sun, 23rd Jan 2005

Huygens Lands on Titan, Saturn's Largest Moon

Prof. John Zarnecki Chris - How does it feel to have reached Titan?

Part of the show Probiotics & Life on Titan ?

John - I got back from Germany yesterday and my feet haven't quite touched the ground yet! I've worked on this project from the beginning, and back then all this was a faraway dream. It's a fantastic achievement!

Chris - What did Huygens see?

John - There are about 100 images of the surface but it's still early days in interpretation. It's clear that there are processes going on there that we're quite familiar with on Earth, including dried up river and lake beds, mountains and shorelines. It's minus 180 degrees on Titan, which means that it's far too cold for water. We think that liquid methane plays the same role that water plays for us, so there are similarities and differences between Earth and Titan.

Chris - Do you think that there's any chance of life on Titan?

John - I would think absolutely not as it's much too cold. The chemistry of the atmosphere has the potential to give rise to life but only if it can make more complex hydrocarbons. This will be the focus of much of the Titan data analysis. We're trying to work out what's on the surface, which seems like a gooey gungy stuff that collects in rivers.

Chris - Now you've looked at Titan, where do you want to explore next?

John - I want to go back to Titan! In fact, studies have already started. The next objective is to have mobility on Titan. So far we've only seen one spot and we'd like to see what the rest of it is like. The ideal thing would be a balloon as we could identify interesting places and decide where to land next. I would also like to go to Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. Lots of data was collected by the Galileo space probe and looks like it has an ocean just below the surface. However, I think my blood pressure might mean the next work should be left to my younger colleagues!

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