What lies beneath the hazy atmosphere that envelops Saturn's moon, Titan? Could its surface be dotted with seas of liquid ethane and icy crags that stretch towards a dim orange sky? No one knows yet.
On January 14, 2005, the European Space Agency's probe Huygens will plummet through Titan's atmosphere, stripping away the shroud that has long hidden the face of this distant moon. In anticipation, The Planetary Society invites children and adults alike to create their own visions of what the space probe will reveal by entering the art contest, "Imagining Titan: Artists Peer Beneath the Veil."
The grand prize will be a trip to the Huygens Mission Control Center in Darmstadt, Germany where the winner will be present for the spacecraft's encounter with Titan.
"For the first time, a space probe will enter Titan's intriguing atmosphere, which scientists believe may be similar to Earth's early atmosphere," said Planetary Society director of projects Bruce Betts. "We challenge people around the world to share what they imagine we'll see when we visit this mysterious moon."
Participants' artwork could depict Titan viewed from the air after Huygens breaks through the cloud cover or the surface of the moon after the spacecraft has parachuted to a landing. The probe could be portrayed on solid ground or floating in an ethane sea.
Titan landscapes (or "sea" scapes) will have an eerily dim quality since high noon is only as bright as 1/1000th the level of daylight on Earth. That is still 350 times as bright as when the landscape on Earth is illuminated by a full moon.
Artists aged 10 and older are invited to enter the contest by the deadline of Sunday, November 28, 2004 when all submissions - by mail or web - must be received. Two First Prize winners will be selected in each of two age levels - Youth, ages 10-17; and Adults, ages 18 and older. Ten Second Prize winners will also be selected from each age group. The Grand Prize winner will be chosen from one of the four First Prize winners. Some of the winning artwork will be displayed at Huygens Mission Control. First and Second prize winners will also receive prizes and certificates of recognition.
"We look forward to welcoming the winner of this contest to the European Space Operations Centre," said Claudio Sollazzo, the Head of the Huygens Operations Unit at ESOC. "In addition to uncovering the scientific secrets of Titan's atmosphere and surface, Huygens will serve to intrigue and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. We are very pleased to participate in this effort."
The Huygens probe is part of the four-year Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn. While ESA controls Huygens, NASA's mission control for Cassini is located at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The Planetary Society's website offers exclusive detailed chronological charts of Cassini's encounters with Saturn and its moons, including Titan.