Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union

Lifting Titan's Veil: Exploring the Giant Moon of Saturn

Authors


Abstract

It is a relatively well-kept secret among planetary scientists that Saturn's moon Titan is not merely the second largest satellite, but one of the most complex and interesting bodies in our solar system. Its complex organic chemistry, which includes hydrocarbon lakes, rain, and perhaps even rivers, make it in some ways more like Earth. Indeed, Titan has been called “the Mars of the outer solar system,” not so much because of its dense atmosphere, but because of its potential to capture the public's imagination.

The secret will be out and the potential for wonder is likely to be realized in full in 2004, when the Cassini spacecraft begins mapping Titan from orbit and drops the Huygens probe into its atmosphere. Lifting Titan's Veil is intended to prepare readers for that adventure; two of its stated goals are to enumerate what is currently known about Titan and to describe Cassini-Huygens and what it may reveal. The third is to offer a case history of how scientific exploration proceeds, not in a steady upward curve of progress, but in fits and starts as limited and sometimes erroneous data are gathered, interpreted, and re-interpreted.