The Sciences

The Surface of Titan Might Feel Like a Damp Beach

80beatsBy Veronique GreenwoodOct 16, 2012 3:03 PM

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An illustration of the descent

While the Cassini probe has been taking the gorgeous pictures of Saturn we know and love

, its little buddy and traveling companion, the Huygens lander

, has been on the surface of the moon Titan. A just-published reconstruction

of what happened when Huygens hit Titan's surface eight years ago gives insight into what the ground on the methane-soaked body is like: something like damp sand, or perhaps crusty snow. According the scenario constructed from its sensor data and on-Earth experiments, when the lander plunked gently down on the moon's surface at a speed of about 10 mph, it sank into the ground about 5 inches before bouncing, sliding a little over a foot, and then rocking back and forth several times before coming to a halt. Earlier reconstructions seemed to indicate that the surface was soft. This version of events, though, suggests that the ground gives when hit with a fair amount of force, but can support passive weight, something like a hard crust over old snow or wetted sand. We don't have glorious videos as we do with Curiosity---just to remind you how exciting that descent

and landing were---but with this reconstruction we can conjure up a reasonable picture of what happened when Huygens arrived on Titan.

Image courtesy of NASA/ESA/JPL

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