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Reviewed by:
  • Titan Unveiled: Saturn's Mysterious Moon Explored
  • Rob Harle (bio)
Titan Unveiled: Saturn's Mysterious Moon Explored by Ralph Lorenz and Jacqueline Mitton. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, U.S.A., 2008, 296 pp., illus. ISBN: 978-0-691-12587-9.

This is a fascinating book. I had not quite realized the passion and commitment to planetary science that those concerned with space missions have. Far more than a dry scientific report, this book conveys the hopes, disappointments and exhilaration of success felt by all persons involved in the Cassini-Huygens adventure mission. The book has a good balance of straight scientific data and facts together with anecdotes, astronomers' logs and personal observations that makes the publication highly readable and very interesting.

The following paraphrased quote sums up the mission quite succinctly:

July 2004, the Cassini spacecraft arrived at Saturn after seven years journey from Earth. It was the largest robotic, explorer spacecraft at 6.8 meters ever sent on a planetary mission. Its battery of scientific instruments was designed to return images and data from both Saturn, with its spectacular ring system, and also data from Saturn's fifty moons. Specifically Titan, the most mysterious of these moons, was so important that Cassini carried with it a detachable package of instruments, the Huygens probe, that would parachute through Titan's atmosphere to observe its surface

(p. 1).

Titan Unveiled: Saturn's Mysterious Moon Explored has numerous black-and-white illustrations, photographs and diagrams, together with a smattering of color plates. There is a brief bibliography, an index and seven chapters as follows:

Chapter 1, "The Lure of Titan," explains why a mission to explore Saturn and Titan was imperative.

Chapter 2, "Waiting For Cassini," describes Earth-based efforts to observe and speculate as to the nature of these two giants of the solar system.

Chapter 3, "Cassini Arrives," gives a history of the Cassini project from its inception, including cooperation between U.S.A. and European organizations; the details of its construction, instrumentation and testing; and also its voyage and entry into Saturn's orbit.

Chapter 4, "Cassini's First Taste of Saturn, " describes Cassini's flybys and transmission of data back to Earth and Huygens's deployment.

Chapter 5, "Landing On Titan," tells of the tension-filled days and then final hours as the Huygens probe descended [End Page 168] through Titan's bizarre orange atmosphere to land on the giant moon.

Chapter 6, "The Mission Goes On," describes the mapping, atmospheric and geological data gathered from Titan's surface and presents the reactions of various astronomers and the amazement back on Earth.

Chapter 7, "Where We Are and Where We Are Going," sets the stage for the further analysis of the collected data, which is incredible because of its quantity and also for the astonishing picture it has painted of these distant worlds in our solar system.

The mysterious nature of Titan has become a little less so, thanks to the Cassini-Huygens mission, but the mission has also posed as many new questions as it has answered.

The tale of unveiling Titan in the last year or two (2006–2008) has been one of science in action, with some ideas tested by data and found wanting, and in other cases guesses being smugly confirmed. Still others we want to be true, but the data so far are not good enough to be sure. It is a work in progress

(p. 230).

Ralph Lorenz is a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University, and Jacqueline Mitton is a writer, editor and media consultant in astronomy. Their combined efforts have created a book that, apart from being an excellent scientific account of this mission made accessible for the general public, is simply a good tale in itself. Anyone interested in alien landscapes that boast liquid methane seas, turbulent orange skies, methane monsoons, equatorial sand seas and a polar hood all brought together with a sense of adventure will enjoy this unique book.

Rob Harle

Australia. E-mail: <harle@dodo.com.au>.

...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9282
Print ISSN
0024-094X
Pages
pp. 168-169
Launched on MUSE
2008-07-25
Open Access
No
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