Drainage channels, canyons, rivulets winding their way to a vast ocean of methane: these were some of the initial impressions of scientists to the first photos taken of &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/science/19/94/379/11555_Internet.html ' target=_blank>Saturn's moon Titan which could provide clues to the origins of Earth.
The pictures were taken Friday after the European Space Agency's (&to=http:// english.pravda.ru/world/2001/11/14/20941.html ' target=_blank>ESA) Huygens probe successfully parachuted down to the surface of Saturn's largest moon, beaming back more than 300 photographs of Titan's misty surface and sound recordings from across the solar system.
"It is impossible to resist speculation that these are some kind of drainage channels, canyons also maybe a shoreline," said Marty Tomasko, a University of Arizona specialist who heads the project's imaging team, showing a picture taken 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the surface, informs the Turkish Press.
Titan is a weird place. The images sent back show channels which must have been cut by liquid, possibly methane; the landing was made upon a surface of about the consistency of wet sand, and there are "boulders", a few inches across at most.
No chemical lakes have been found, but of course the pictures have only just been received, and examining them properly will take many weeks. Why is Titan so important? Mainly because it is the only planetary satellite to have a substantial atmosphere, and it may in some ways be not unlike the Earth of around 4,000 million years ago.
It does contain all the ingredients needed for life, and could tell us a great deal about how life may have been "kick-started" in a hostile environment. This in turn may be of great value to medical science as a whole. We may also learn more about how planetary bodies evolve, wrote the Independent.
ESA is also preparing to send two orbiters to Mercury in its BepiColombo mission in 2009, ahead of a similar project planned by Nasa.