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Titan far more complex than previously thought

Saturn?s moon Titan is electrifying the scientific communitybecause it appears to be ?geologically alive,? that is tosay, involved with complex chemical processes, weather andother changes that could be very much like the changes thattook place on earth as life was just beginning.

On October 26, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, a project ofNASA?s jet Propulsion Laboratory, traveled to within 1174kilometers (730 mi.) of Saturn?s moon Titan in order togather data from its panel of twelve instruments. Ten of thetwelve systems successfully returned data.

During the encounter, Cassini?s imaging radar mapped about 1percent of Titan?s surface, providing fascinating evidencefor a great range of geological formations. The newinformation suggests that Titan?s surface is very young,according to Dr. Jonathan Lunine at the University ofArizona, Tucson. One particularly smooth, dark area on themoon?s surface is suspected to be a lake, though it is tooearly in the mission to tell for sure. Optical imaging ofTitan?s surface also shows light streaking possibly due toflowing liquids or wind, and radiometry readings indicatethe moon is swathed in organic materials.

The Cassini mission?s next close fly-by of Titan will takeplace on December 13th, when poject scientists hope to haveall twelve instruments working properly in order to gatherdata missed on this week's fly-by. Plans for descending intoTitan?s atmosphere are scheduled for early January.

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