Titan (a moon of Saturn) – The Huygens craft has made some amazing leaps for our science. For example, it landed a probe on one of Saturn’s moons in 2005. Now, the craft has managed to send back the first pictures of extraterrestrial liquid ever taken.
When Huygens was launched from its mother ship, the space probe Cassini, it landed on Saturn moon named Titan. After landing, drops of methane formed on the craft, resulting in the image capture.
The images appear to show a dewdrop composed of methane which formed briefly on the edge of the probe. Scientists believe that heat from the probe caused humid air to rise and condense on the crafts cold edge.
Even though the Huygens aided in the production of the methane drop, it is still the first liquid to be detected on any surface anywhere outside of earth.
Just like Earth, Saturn’s moon Titan has clouds, rivers, lakes and channels. In fact, it could potentially be the only other location in the solar system where liquid evaporates from the surface, accumulates, and then rains – though on Titan it does this at -290 degrees Fahrenheit and 146.7 kPa (45% higher pressure than the Earth’s atmosphere).
The Cassini space probe detected what scientists think are lakes of liquid methane on the surface of Titan. Methane consuming microbes thrive on Earth, and scientists believe that Titans methane pools could potentially be a safe and comfortable environment for similar organisms on Titan.
Scientists could actually begin utilizing Titan’s current atmosphere to gain a better understanding of the early origins of earth and its life forms.
The images taken by Huygens did not reveal that any rain clouds were present in the atmosphere. In fact, the images didn’t show any evidence that it had even rained in years previous. Some of the images were indicative that Titan’s lower atmosphere was packed with dust particles, and that would have been eliminated by rain.
However, scientists found light splotches in some of the images that weren’t in photos taken merely moments before. Some of the spots looked like raindrops, but further analysis showed that they were probably only electronic imprints created by cosmic rays.
One of the spots was deemed to be too large to be a cosmic ray, and therefore scientists were able to conclude that it was in fact a short-lived methane dewdrop that was so close to the camera that it had probably condensed on a cold metal shield designed to protect the lens of the camera from the sun’s harsh light. Thus making the photo the first of liquid captured in space.
UPDATED: December 17, 2008 – 8:10am CST
Ask and you shall receive. Below are the images provided by NASA.