UK scientists get a "whiff" of Titan's surface

Press Release From: Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council
Posted: Friday, January 21, 2005

Further insights into Titan were unveiled today (21st January 2005) as scientists involved in the joint NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens mission presented further results and images a week to the day after the successful descent and arrival of the Huygens probe on the surface of Saturn's largest moon.

Principal Investigator for the Huygens Surface Science Package [SSP], Professor John Zarnecki from the Open University, Milton Keynes, has spent the last week with his team analysing and interpreting the data.

Speaking at a press briefing from ESA's Headquarters in Paris he said:
"The Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer has detected a 'whiff' of methane evaporating off the surface and the SSP data has also shown indications of gas flowing into its sensing area. These gaseous outbursts were released as heat generated by Huygens warmed the soil beneath the probe. This is a tantalising glimpse of the processes at work on Titan and shows how the weather systems operate with methane forming clouds and raining down on to the surface - producing the drainage channels, river beds and other features that we see in the images.

We are continuing to analyse the data from our penetrometer - the very first instrument to touch the surface of Titan - it then pushed through the crust to a depth of 10 to 15cm. Results indicate that beneath the thin crust lies a material with the consistency of sand or clay - but made of water ice grains rather than the rock grains that we find on Earth."

Prof. Zarnecki added,
"All of the instruments are producing intriguing results which, when combined, will begin to build a fascinating picture of this exotic World - with its unique geology, geography and even meteorology. The more we see the more there is to find out. We have only looked at a fraction of the data received - there is much more to study."

After a 4 billion kilometre journey through the Solar System that lasted almost 7 years, the Huygens probe plunged into the hazy atmosphere of Titan at 10.13 GMT on 14th January 2005. It landed safely on the surface at 12.45 GMT with an impact speed of 5m per second. It continued transmitting from the surface for several hours, even after the Cassini orbiter dropped below the horizon and stopped recording data to relay back to Earth. The Surface Science Package of instruments on Huygens received 1 hour, 9 minutes and 36 seconds worth of data from the surface.

The science data received by Huygens will provide the vital 'ground truth' for the Cassini spacecraft as it continues its scientific observations of Titan during its 4-year tour of Saturn.

The Surface Science Package, designed and assembled in the UK (in partnership with ESTEC and SRC Warsaw), was the first part of the Huygens probe to make contact with Titan's surface.

For further updates, images and sounds from Titan see the ESA website.

Further information can be found on the following websites:-
PPARC - Further details about the UK role in the mission and a full list of UK contacts (science and industry) at:-
Open University Surface Science Package Website

UK Contacts

Peter Barratt - PPARC Press office
Tel: 01793 442025. Mobile: 0787 9602899

Gill Ormrod - PPARC Press Office
Tel: 01793 442012 Mobile: 0781 8013509.

Julia Maddock - PPARC Press Office
Tel: 01793 442094. Mobile: 07901 514975

Louis De La Forêt - Media Relations Officer, Open University
Tel: 01908 653256. Mobile 07771810099

Natalie Bealing - CCLRC Press Office
Mobile: 07941 518321

UK Scientists available

Huygens Team

Professor John Zarnecki, Open University - Principal Investigator for Huygens Surface Science Package (SSP) and Co-investigator for the Huygens Atmospheric Instrument (HASI) - Paris
Mobile: 0 7769 943883

Mark Leese, OU Huygens team
Mobile: 07941 413933 Email:

Dr.Andrew Ball, OU Huygens team
Mobile: 07905 104576 Email:

Dr Simon Green, OU Huygens team
Tel: 01908 659601. Email:

Professor Tony McDonnell, OU Huygens team
Co-I on SSP and HASI. Co-I on CDA on Cassini
Tel: 01227 761352. Mobile: 07771 514107

Professor Colin Pillinger, OU
Tel: 01908 655169. Email:

Dave Parker - CCLRC Huygens team
Mobile: 07712 847427. Email:

Professor Manuel Grande, CCLRC
Tel: 01235 446501. Email:

Dr. Peter Challenor - Southampton Oceanography Centre
Tel: 023 80596413. Email:

Cassini Scientists

Professor Carl Murray, Queen Mary, University of London - Co-Investigator on Imaging Science Subsystem team (Cassini)
Tel: 0207 8825456. Email
Mobile: 07976 243883.

Dr Andrew Coates, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, UCL - Co-Investigator on Cassini Plasma Electron Spectrometer (Cassini)
Tel: 01483 204145. Email:
Mobile: 07788 448318

Professor Michele Dougherty, Imperial College - Principal Investigator on Magnetometer (Cassini)
Tel: 020 7594 7757. Email:

Dr Patrick Irwin, University of Oxford - Co-Investigator on Composite Infrared Spectrometer (Cassini)
Tel: 01865 272083. Email:

Dr Ingo Mueller-Wodarg, Imperial College - Co-investigator on INMS (Cassini)
Tel: 020 7594 7674. Mobile: 07973 271816

ESA and NASA PR Contacts

ESA/ESOC Media Relations - Jocelyne Landeau-Constantin
Tel: +49 (0) 6151 90 2696

ESA/Head Office Media Relations - Franco Bonacina
Tel: +33 (0) 1 5369 7155

JPL Media Relations - Carolina Martinez
Tel: +1 818 354 9382 or +1 818 354 5011

UK Industrial Contacts

Logica CMG - has provided software for the probe support equipment on the orbiter and for the Huygens probe. The probe software will control the descent to the surface of Titan, as well as initiate the various experiments onboard, and control data transmission back to the orbiter.
Contact: Alex Rowley. Tel: 0207 4197331. Email:

Scisys Ltd - developed the Mission Control System at the European Space Agency's Operation Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
Contact: Chris Lee. Tel: 01249 466467

Martin Baker Space Systems - Martin Baker was responsible for the parachute systems and the related structural components, mechanisms and pyrotechnics needed to control the descent of the probe to Titan.
Contact: Steve Lingard. Tel: 01865 893210. Email:

Hugh Pickerin. Tel: 01428 712620 or 01865 893210. Email:

Irvin-GQ - Irvin Aerospace Limited worked on the Huygens descent control sub-system under contract to Martin Baker. Irvin was responsible for the definition of the structure of each of the parachutes employed in the system.
Contact: Geoff Linaker. Tel: 01656 727000. Email:

IGG Component Technology - was responsible for the centralised procurement and testing of electrical, electronic and electromechanical components used in the probe's electronics.
Contact: Graham Peters. Tel: 01329 829311. Email:

UK Science and Industrial Involvement

UK scientists are playing significant roles in the Cassini Huygens mission with involvement in 6 of the 12 instruments onboard the Cassini orbiter and 2 of the 6 instruments on the Huygens probe. The UK has the lead role in the magnetometer instrument on Cassini (Imperial College) and the Surface Science Package on Huygens (Open University).

UK industry had developed many of the key systems for the Huygens probe, including the flight software (LogicaCMG) and parachutes (Martin Baker). These mission critical systems need to perform reliably in some of the most challenging and remote environments ever attempted by a man made object. For examples, the Huygens probe will hit the atmosphere of Titan at 6 km/sec. LogicaCMG's software onboard the probe will be responsible for deploying the parachutes, separating the front and back shield with precise timings to achieve the required descent profile; reducing the velocity of Huygens before commencing the science experiments, and managing communications back to Cassini.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The European Space Agency managed the development of the Huygens probe and is in charge of operations of the probe from its control centre in Darmstadt, Germany. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The Italian Space Agency provided the high-gain antenna, much of the radio system and elements of Cassini's science instruments.

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) is the UK's strategic science investment agency. It funds research, education and public understanding in four broad areas of science - particle physics, astronomy, cosmology and space science.

PPARC is government funded and provides research grants and studentships to scientists in British universities, gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, CERN, the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory. It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility.

// end //

More news releases and status reports or top stories.

Please follow SpaceRef on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.

SpaceRef Newsletter