A Titan of a Mission

Parachuting through smog to Saturn's moon

10:51am, November 13, 2004

On Jan. 14, a flying saucer will parachute through the thick orange haze of a distant moon's atmosphere. Descending through the hydrocarbon smog, the probe could crash into an icy mountain, plop in a pool of organic goo, or dive into a methane ocean. Welcome to Saturn's largest moon, Titan, a place where organic chemistry appears to be a carbon copy of the infant Earth's just before life got a foothold. The saucer-shaped Huygens probe, named for the 17th-century Dutch astronomer who discovered Titan, has been riding piggyback on the Cassini spacecraft since it left Earth in October 1997. The craft arrived at Saturn on June 30 and has now embarked on a 4-year tour of the planet and its moons.

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