NASA Phoenix Lander



The Face Behind The Veil. Titan is a little larger than Mercury--the smallest major planet inhabiting our Solar System. Indeed, Titan would have been classified as a major planet in its own right if it orbited our Sun instead of Saturn. The Huygens Probe images lifted the veil from the face of this distant moon-world, revealing a youthful surface that is both smooth and relatively free of impact craters. Huygens also found that this icy, hydrocarbon-saturated moon's climate includes those heavy rains of gasoline, as well as raging, roaring winds. Some of Titan's surface features were found to be hauntingly akin to certain surface features on Earth. Dr. Carolyn Porco, a planetary scientist and leader of the Imaging Science team for Cassini, explained to the press in March 2012 that "More than 90 jets of all sizes near Enceladus's south pole are spraying water vapor, icy particles, and organic compounds all over the place. Cassini has flown several times now through this spray and has tasted it. And we have found that aside from water and organic material, there is salt in the icy particles. The salinity is the same as that of Earth's oceans." The discovery of a moon for Makemake may have solved one perplexing puzzle concerning this distant, icy object. Earlier infrared studies of the dwarf planet showed that while Makemake's surface is almost entirely frozen and bright, some areas seem to be warmer than other areas. Astronomers had suggested that this discrepancy may be the result of our Sun warming certain dark patches on Makemake's surface. However, unless Makemake is in a special orientation, these mysterious dark patches should cause the ice dwarf's brightness to vary substantially as it rotates. But this amount of variability has not been observed.