Saturday, January 15, 2005

The sights and sounds of Titan

The European Space Agency web site has photographs of the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan taken by the probe Huygens, which landed there yesterday (see here). There are also sounds recorded during the craft's descent available on the site at the time of writing.

Is this the first time that anyone has heard sounds from outside the Earth’s atmosphere?

(Sound in the cosmos: another dimension to explore. It’s reported that sound waves from the Big Bang are visible by the ripples they have caused in the distribution of matter).

Looking at a strange world kindles dreams. Where do dreams end? In March last year I wrote:

The reported recent discovery of an ancient shoreline on the planet Mars (see here) may be an enduring source of wonder for those who like to contemplate the boundaries that are fundamental to pre-human, human and post-human existence (see, for example, these contributions introducing the shorelines series on openDemocracy – part one, and part two).

Contemplating shorelines on other planets is, for me, both an exhilarating and disturbing experience. The probable absence of life – at least on the great majority of planets within our compass – is awe-inspiring and awful. What would it be like to be on a planet utterly devoid of life?

And what about planets that have seas but no shores – either like Jupiter’s moon Europa, where waters may be locked beneath an endless mantle of ice (see here)
or where oceans naked to the stars rage in storms without end?

The BBC reports (15 Jan) that after the successful landing, Prof David Southwood, Esa’s director of science read from On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer by (the twenty year old?) John Keats:

MUCH have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;

Round many western islands have I been

Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.

Oft of one wide expanse had I been told

That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne:

Yet did I never breathe its pure serene

Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

When a new planet swims into his ken;

Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes

He stared at the Pacific—and all his men

Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—

Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

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