Titan-ic Awe

The latest flyby of Titan by Cassini occurred on March 31, 2005. NASA has not yet released processed images and scientific feedback, but the raw images have been available for a couple days now. When looking at these raw images of Titan, there is something profoundly strange yet incredibly familiar about them. The only reasonable response is awe. What are the images showing us? The image to the left reveals more detail of a large black shape with sharp boundaries. Is it a sea of methane made dark by hydrocarbon sediments? Is it a huge expanse of methane, hydrocarbon, and water ice mud? Why does it look so familiar?

You do not need to be a scientist to understand that there is something very interesting happening on Titan. Recent attendance by the public at lectures about data returned by the Cassini-Huygens space probes indicates the extent of this interest. Surprisingly enough, planetary scientists do not seem to be any better equipped than the layperson to explain what is going on.

Cassini will make an even closer flyby of Titan on April 16, 2005 before orbital mechanics result in a four month gap between flybys.