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Expect New Huygens Data Tomorrow

Huygens mission scientists will gather tomorrow in Paris to discuss the results of the experiments aboard the probe. Huygens delivered plenty of data: the probe transmitted for several hours from the surface of Titan, even after the Cassini orbiter moved below the horizon. Cassini received one hour and twelve minutes worth of solid information; all told, we have some 474 megabits that include 350 pictures of the descent and landing area.

Early results show that the upper atmosphere is what the European Space Agency calls ‘a uniform mix of methane with nitrogen in the stratosphere.’ As the probe descended, the concentration of methane increased. One unexpected issue was the haze, which the Huygens team assumed the probe would clear at between 75 and 50 kilometers. In fact, Huygens only emerged from the haze at 30 kilometers above the surface. Methane or ethane fog was detected near the ground.

On the table tomorrow in Paris will be data about the texture of Titan’s surface (the famous ‘creme brulee’ comment still stands — we’re dealing with something the consistency of wet sand or clay with a thin crust, though it’s mostly made up of water and hydrocarbon ice). The press conference takes place at 1100 CET (0500 EST) and will be re-broadcast to other ESA sites. A list of conference participants is here, and an animation of the Huygens descent through the clouds can be found on this ESA page.