The sound of alien thunder, the patter of methane rain and the crunch (or splash) of a landing, all might be heard as Huygens descends to the surface of Titan on 14 January 2005.
What’s more, they will be recorded by a microphone on the probe and relayed back so that everyone on Earth can hear the sounds of Titan. Although the Russians took a microphone to Venus in the 1970s, few scientific results came out if that endeavour. A similar microphone for Mars was destroyed when NASA’s Mars Polar Lander crashed a few years ago.
The new microphone is part of the Huygens Atmospheric Structure Instrument (HASI), one of six multi-functional experiments carried on the Huygens probe. It is designed to help track down lightning by listening for the clap of thunder usually associated with such an event.
Although there is only a small chance that the spacecraft will pass near a thunderstorm, it is an extremely important investigation to carry out. It may help us to understand if thunderstorms are an important energy source for organic chemistry on Titan.