A few years ago we were all on the edge of our seats, wondering what the Huygens lander would find on Titan (above) when it landed. The mission was an historic success, but the photos were slow in coming and eventually public interest turned to other things. When the pictures were finally released an awful lot of people never saw them.
Well, Theory Corner readers won't be among them. Here, from the European Space Agency site, is Titan.
Before I get to the Huygens photos, let's get a feeling for the kind of world Titan is by looking at a radar photo (above) taken by Huygens' orbital companion, Cassini. It shows a world dominated by land, but dotted all over with large methane lakes.
The delay in assembling the photos came about because the lander (shown in the artist's painting above) was dangling from a parachute and encountered unexpected turbulence in the upper atmosphere. The swinging camera recorded mostly blurs which had to be painstakingly re-constituted in computer labs.
Back to photos again: here's (above) another photo made by Cassini, showing what Huygens saw as it approached the atmosphere.
The bed was recently covered by liquid methane. The green arrows indicate the direction of the flow. Click to enlarge.
Down, down, past mountains and valleys. The color is a guess added by the photo restorers. All of Huygens' photos were black and white.
Finally, the landing! Here's (above) the first, color-coded picture of the surface. The larger rocks in the foreground are about six inches across. The rocks are rounded, indicating erosion by liquid.