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Frequently Asked Questions - Titan

Frequently Asked Questions - Titan


Is Titan considered a likely place to look for life?

Most scientists don't hold much hope for finding life on Titan because it's so cold. But Titan does appear to have a chemical environment that many scientists believe has important parallels to the one that immediately preceded the development of life on Earth. They look to Titan as a natural laboratory where they may be able to see pre-biotic chemical processes at work.

I am wondering whether the Huygens Probe has onboard cameras that will reveal what Titan's surface looks like.

Huygens will take images of the surface during descent but not from the surface. One of the probe's instruments, the Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer, contains two imagers (one visible and one infrared) that will observe the surface during the latter stages of the descent and, as the probe slowly spins, build up a mosaic of pictures around the landing site. There will also be a side-view visible imager to get a horizontal view of the horizon and the underside of the cloud deck.

For descriptions of all six of the Huygens Probe's instruments, visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/spacecraft/huygensprobeinstruments/

If Titan is bigger than Mercury or Pluto, why isn't it considered a planet?

If Titan were not in orbit around a larger planet, it would surely be considered a planet, itself. But by common convention, objects in orbit around larger bodies are called "moons" or "satellites."

Since Titan consists of methane gas, could it possibly ignite if, for example, an asteroid were to hit it?

Yes, Titan is rich with methane gas, but in order for methane to "burn," there must be a rich supply of oxygen such as that found on Earth. Titan lacks enough oxygen for its methane-rich atmosphere to burn.