Planetary Society Showcases Sights and Sounds of Titan

For Immediate Release
March 17, 2005

Mat Kaplan
Email: [email protected]
Phone: +1-626-793-5100

What happens when art meets reality? In the case of The Planetary Society's international Titan art contest, it merits a special prize for the artwork that most closely resembles any portion of the actual Titan landscape or atmosphere imaged by the European Space Agency's Huygens probe during its final stages of descent.

David Ziels of Columbus, Ohio won the special prize in the adult category with his painting of the surface entitled "Titan Revealed," and 15- year-old Chelsey Tyler of Harrisburg, North Carolina won the special prize in the youth category. Tyler's depiction of the Huygens probe descending through the atmosphere also won her the grand prize in the Society’s art contest, "Imagining Titan: Artists Peer Beneath the Veil"– a trip to Huygens Mission Control Center in Darmstadt, Germany for the spacecraft's encounter. View all the winning art at our website at /explore/topics/saturn/titan_art.html.

Not only do we now have a clearer picture of what Huygens saw on its descent to Saturn's moon, but we also have a better idea of how the probe sounded when it bumped down on Titan's surface, thanks to a newly processed sound file of the landing available on The Planetary Society's website at /explore/topics/saturn/titan_sounds.html.

“Huygens has given us the chance to get to know mysterious Titan better through both sights and sounds,” said Planetary Society Director of Projects Bruce Betts. “Both have been exhilarating.”

The Planetary Society teamed with ESA and the Huygens Atmospheric Structure Instrument team to release the sounds recorded by the Huygens probe during its descent through Titan's atmosphere. The Huygens Atmospheric Structure Instrument - HASI for short - was designed to explore the temperature, pressure, density, and other physical properties of Titan's sky. Its acoustic sensor, or microphone, listened to the entire descent, recording the average power across different sound frequencies every two seconds. The Society worked with Greg Delory of the University of California, Berkeley, to help process the data into actual sounds.

The new "bump" -- landing sound -- posted on the Society's website was produced by amplifying the short, higher pitched sounds by a factor of 10, and compressing the sound from the multi-second average of the original data into a fraction of a second, approximately the length of time that the impact sound actually took. More details about the sound are found on our web site at /explore/topics/saturn/titan_sounds.html.

The Planetary Society's art contest inspired 435 people from 35 countries to submit imagined visions of Titan before Huygens landed on January 14, 2005. The camera images from the probe then needed to be interpreted before the two judges – Cassini-Huygens scientists Jonathan Lunine and Larry Soderblom – could determine which artworks most closely depicted the moon's actual atmosphere or surface features.

Ziels described the inspiration for his artwork, saying, "The impression I came to was of a dry Mars-like world but more heavily weathered due to the denser atmosphere. I felt that methane rain had probably played a large part in forming the surface features and that methane precipitation would wash any dark organic particles into lower lying areas. I also thought that cryovolcanoes were a possibility so in the background of my image you can see a plume rising high into to the atmosphere before being sheared by stratospheric winds. "

Lunine said, “David Ziel’s painting really jumped out at me. When I looked at it, I said ‘This is the Huygens landing site!’ If you could sit down on Titan and see things with your own human eyes, David’s painting would capture it.”

About her painting, "Chaos Beneath the Veil," Tyler stated, "I started on the picture wanting to make a very dark and gloomy landscape, having read that the probe will not be able to use solar power on the surface because of the thickness of the atmosphere. When I realized that dark and gloomy can also translate to boring and indistinct, I began to create contrast. In the end, I had a more chaotic and much more interesting picture than what I had originally envisioned."

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. Visit the mission tour page at /explore/topics/saturn/cassinihuygens/tour.html.

About The Planetary Society

With a global community of more than 2 million space enthusiasts, The Planetary Society is the world’s largest and most influential space advocacy organization. Founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman and today led by CEO Bill Nye, we empower the public to take a meaningful role in advancing space exploration through advocacy, education outreach, scientific innovation, and global collaboration. Together with our members and supporters, we’re on a mission to explore worlds, find life off Earth, and protect our planet from dangerous asteroids. To learn more, visit