These two images of Saturn's largest moon Titan were taken by Cassini on October 26, 2004.
Click on image for full size
Images courtesy NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

Cassini Titan Flyby in October 2004
News story originally written on October 28, 2004

The robotic Cassini spacecraft flew by Saturn's moon Titan on October 26, 2004. Titan is Saturn's largest moon, and has the thickest atmosphere of any moon in our Solar System.

Cassini captured what are by far the best images of Titan to date. The images show regions of dark and bright materials that may indicate a surface shaped by multiple geologic processes, but scientists are not yet certain what to make of the patterns observed. An assortment of ten instruments on Cassini recorded data about Titan during the flyby. One detected unusual proportions of nitrogen isotopes in Titan's atmosphere, possibly providing clues about the "age" of that atmosphere. Another instruments, the ion and neutral mass spectrometer, detected a diversity of hydrocarbons (including benzene and diacetylene) in the moon's upper atmosphere.

Cassini passed within 1,174 kilometers (730 miles) of the Titan during this close encounter. Cassini, which is in orbit around Saturn, will fly past Titan 44 more times in the next four years!

The Huygens lander, which is currently riding piggyback on Cassini, will detach from the "mothership" and drop to a landing on Titan in January 2005. Some of the measurements of Titan's atmosphere that Cassini made on this flyby will help scientists better characterize the moon's atmosphere. The more scientists know about Titan's atmosphere, the safer they can make Huygens' entry into and flight through that atmosphere.

Last modified October 28, 2004 by Randy Russell.

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more


The Cassini probe began its journey to Saturn on October 15, 1997. It flew by Earth in August, 1999, before heading towards the distant planet. Cassini passed Jupiter in 2000 and then burned towards its...more


Isotopes are different "versions" of a chemical element. All atoms of an element have the same number of protons. For example, all hydrogen atoms have one proton, all carbon atoms have six protons, and...more

Huygens probe on its way to Titan

NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which is in orbit around Saturn, released the Huygens probe and sent it on its way to Saturn's largest moon, Titan. The probe, pushed away from the Cassini "mothership"...more

A Rover on the Red Planet! Spirit Will Look at the Geology of Mars

NASA’s rover, named Spirit, has successfully landed and will soon be scouting the surface of Mars for interesting geology! Scientists are interested to know whether the depression where Spirit landed...more

Hubble Servicing Mission Canceled

On January 16, 2004, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe announced the cancellation of the final scheduled servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). The review board studying the Shuttle Columbia...more

Cassini approaches Saturn's Moon Phoebe

The Cassini spacecraft, en route to Saturn, will zoom past Saturn's odd moon Phoebe on June 11, 2004. Cassini will pass within 2,000 km (1,243 miles) of the moon's surface and should send back images with...more

Cassini Titan Flyby in October 2004

The robotic Cassini spacecraft flew by Saturn's moon Titan on October 26, 2004. Titan is Saturn's largest moon, and has the thickest atmosphere of any moon in our Solar System. Cassini captured what are...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA