Huygens: ‘Ground Truth’ From an Alien Moon

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Images taken by Huygens were used to emanate this view, that shows a probe’s viewpoint from an altitude of about 6 miles (10 kilometers). Image credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

2005 Historic Descent to Titan Revisited

After a two-and-a-half-hour descent, a metallic, saucer-shaped booster came to rest with a whack on a dim floodplain lonesome in cobbles of H2O ice, in temperatures hundreds of degrees next freezing. The visitor examine worked frantically to collect and broadcast images and information about a precinct — in little mins a mothership would dump next a internal horizon, slicing off a couple to a home universe and silencing a voice forever.

Although it might seem a things of scholarship fiction, this stage played out 12 years ago on a aspect of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. The “aliens” who built a examine were us. This was a jubilant alighting of ESA’s Huygens probe.

Huygens, a plan of a European Space Agency, trafficked to Titan as a messenger to NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, and afterwards separated from a mothership on Dec. 24, 2004, for a 20-day seashore toward a destiny during Titan.

The examine sampled Titan’s dense, misty atmosphere as it solemnly rotated underneath a parachutes, examining a formidable organic chemistry and measuring winds. It also took hundreds of images during a descent, divulgence bright, imperishable highlands that were crosscut by dim drainage channels and high ravines. The area where a examine overwhelmed down was a dark, granular surface, that resembled a dry lakebed.

Thoughts on Huygens

Today a Huygens examine sits silently on a wintry aspect of Titan, a goal resolved little hours after touchdown, while a Cassini booster continues a scrutiny of Titan from above as partial of a goal to learn some-more about Saturn and a moons. Now in a dramatic final year, a spacecraft’s possess tour will interpretation on Sep 15 with a fatal thrust into Saturn’s atmosphere.

With a goal streamer into a home stretch, Cassini group members and NASA leaders demeanour behind fondly on a stress of Huygens:

“The Huygens skirmish and alighting represented a vital breakthrough in a scrutiny of Titan as good as a initial soothing alighting on an outer-planet moon. It totally altered a bargain of this haze-covered sea world.”
— Linda Spilker, Cassini plan scientist during NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

“The Huygens images were all a images from circuit were not. Instead of hazy, devious facilities that we could usually theory were streams and drainage channels, here was flawless justification that during some indicate in Titan’s story — and maybe even now — there were issuing glass hydrocarbons on a surface. Huygens’ images became a Rosetta mill for assisting us appreciate a successive commentary on Titan.”
— Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging group lead during Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado

“Cassini and Huygens have shown us that Titan is an extraordinary universe with a landscape that mimics Earth in many ways. During a descent, a Huygens examine prisoner views that demonstrated an wholly new dimension to that comparison and highlights that there is so many some-more we have nonetheless to discover. For me, Huygens has emphasized because it is so critical that we continue to try Titan.”
— Alex Hayes, a Cassini scientist during Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

“Twelve years ago, a little examine overwhelmed down on an orangish, visitor universe in a outdoor solar system, imprinting humankind’s many apart alighting to date. Studying Titan helps us provoke out a intensity of habitability of this little universe and improved know a chemistry of a early Earth.”
— Jim Green, executive of heavenly scholarship during NASA Headquarters, Washington

Source: JPL