Miles From Earth to Planets



After a long and dangerous journey through the space between planets, the Cassini/Huygens Spacecraft reached Saturn on July 1, 2004. On December 25, 2004, the Huygens Probe was purposely liberated from the Cassini Orbiter. Huygens then began its historic descent through the dense blanket of golden-orange fog to at last lift the veil hiding Titan's long-hidden face. This gigantic "King of Planets" is considered by some astronomers to be a "failed star". It is about as large as a gas giant planet can be, and still be a planet. It is composed of approximately 90% hydrogen and 10% helium, with small amounts of water, methane, ammonia, and rocky grains mixed into the brew. If any more material were added on to this immense planet, gravity would hug it tightly--while its entire radius would barely increase. A baby star can grow to be much larger than Jupiter. However, a true star harbors its own sparkling internal source of heat--and Jupiter would have to grow at least 80 times more massive for its furnace to catch fire. Earlier infrared data did not have sufficient resolution to separate MK 2 from Makemake's veiling glare. The astronomers' reanalysis, however, based on the more recent HST observations, indicates that much of the warmer surface spotted earlier in infrared light may simply be the dark surface of the companion MK 2.