By Professor John Zarnecki
Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space & Astronomical Research (CEPSAR)
After an interplanetary journey of 7 ¼ years, the European Space Agency's probe Huygens landed on the surface of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, having been released from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, on 14th January 2005. Titan, which is larger than the planet Mercury, is the only planetary satellite in the entire Solar System to possess a significant atmosphere. Most interestingly, it appears that Titan's atmosphere is the site of a whole range of chemical reactions which produce increasingly complex hydrocarbon molecules as might have occurred in Earth's early atmosphere over 4 billion years ago. In this lecture, Professor Zarnecki will describe the journey of the Huygens probe as well as its final dramatic plunge to the surface. He will present the results and prospects for future missions.