I've decided I have one "out there" goal for my life; before I die, I want to visit Titan. This is the largest of Saturn's 33 moons, larger than Mercury and Pluto, and has an actual atmosphere. It is a bit cold (about -290°F) but it is really cool, too. Next Monday the Cassini spacecraft is going to make another close flyby of Titan, hopefully taking more "cool" pictures (check out this one of Saturn; it just doesn't look real, does it?)
Here's an amazing composite of all Saturn's moons... If you go to this page and click Moons, you'll get an interactive version with mouse rollovers that tell you about each one; they are each fascinating in their own right. The big orange one is Titan:
Why Titan? I could say why not, but really Titan is an interesting destination; there is a mystery about its composition and atmosphere. It is more complex than most moons; it appears to be "alive", with active geology, weather systems, etc. It even looks a bit like Earth, doesn't it? One could imagine some sort of alien life living in its Nitrogen clouds... It is the only moon in our solar system with an atmosphere, and understanding it better could help us understand Earth, too. Here's a comparison of Earth's and Titan's atmospheres:
This image from the mission pages explains "why explore Titan", and shows a visual comparison to similarly-sized planetary objects in the solar system:
This page explains the Cassini mission in more detail. NASA did a terrific job with this website; how great is it to have this kind of information available online?
On Christmas Day, the Huygens probe will separate from Cassini and begin its voyage to Titan's surface. It will reach Titon's atmosphere on January 14, 2005, and who knows what will happen after that? Here's a picture of Huygens, which was built by the European Space Agency:
Looks like something from Myst, doesn't it :)
Cassini recently captured a bunch of high-resolution images of Titan, which have been assembled into a mosaic for this full-disc view [ via Gerard Van Der Leun ]:
(click image for full-size interactive viewer)
Be sure to hit F11 to maximize your browser's window so you can see as much of the image as possible.
As usual with big images, I upsampled it and am serving it with Aperio's image server software.