11. Titan

“He landed on a rocky outcrop which looked out across a vast … plane.” p. 292

Credit: NASA/JPL/Michael Carroll

Only two days of Johnny Mackintosh to go. I’ve jumped to much further on in the book, taking us to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon and the most planet-like of all the solar system’s satellites. Apart from Earth, it’s the only other body we’ve found that has permanent liquid features on its surface – oceans, lakes and rivers. Only, on Titan, the surface liquid is thought to be complex hydrocarbons.

We know a reasonable amount about it because it’s the body furthest from Earth on which a spaceship has landed. On 14 January 2005, the Huygens probe (carried by its mother ship Cassini) descended through the moon’s thick orange atmosphere and touched down safely on Titan’s surface. The joint ESA/NASA/ASI mission (ASI is the Italian space agency) was an amazing feet, and there’s a rather odd video of the descent at the NASA site. It’s like watching the landing through a fish-eye lens and only really comes into its own towards the end of the movie, but worth sticking with it. It’s a shame that the probe wasn’t able to carry a more regular camera so everyone could have been captivated by extraordinary pictures from the surface of another world.

Titan’s unique as the only moon in the solar system with a notable atmosphere. It’s so thick that, with the lower gravity, humans could strap on wings and fly through the air, soaring over the plains like the one above. I started the Twelve Days of Johnny Mackintosh by saying the first place I’d visit, if I had my own spaceship, would be Saturn, but I’m sure I could take some time out from the majestic rings to have a bit of a play on the solar system’s second-largest moon.

It’s the final day of Johnny Mackintosh tomorrow and we’re going out with a bit of a bang.

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