The Huygens landing: one year on

Jan 13, 2006
The Huygens landing: one year on
An artist's interpretation of the area surrounding the Huygens landing site based on images and data returned on 14 January 2005. Credits: ESA.

One year ago this week, on 14 January 2005, ESA’s Huygens probe reached the upper layer of Titan’s atmosphere and landed on the surface after a parachute descent 2 hours and 28 minutes later.

As part of the joint NASA/ESA/ASI mission to Saturn and its moons, the Huygens probe was sent from the Cassini spacecraft to explore Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Titan’s organic chemistry may be like that of the primitive Earth around 4000 million years ago, and may hold clues about how life began on our planet.

The Huygens mission has been an outstanding engineering and scientific success, one of the most complex and scientifically rewarding space missions to date. The touchdown on the surface of Titan marked the farthest a man-made spacecraft has successfully landed away from Earth.

Clear images of the surface of Titan were obtained below 40 km altitude – revealing an extraordinary world, resembling Earth in many respects, especially in meteorology, geomorphology and fluvial activity, but with different ingredients. The images show strong evidence for erosion due to liquid flows, possibly methane.

Huygens enabled studies of the atmosphere and surface, including the first in-situ sampling of the organic chemistry and the aerosols below 150 km. These confirmed the presence of a complex organic chemistry, which reinforces the idea that Titan is a promising place to observe the molecules that may have been the precursors of the building blocks of life on Earth.

Around 260 scientists and up to 10 000 engineers and other professionals from 19 countries overcame cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary differences to achieve an astonishing co-operation.

ESA’s Huygens project scientist, Jean-Pierre Lebreton said, “This mission took two decades to accomplish and pushed the limits of our capabilities, whether scientific, technological or organisational. But the scientists and engineers used their skills and intelligence to overcome technical, political and celestial barriers to their goals.

“In the end, they triumphed spectacularly and, apart from the amazing scientific return, the mission should be an inspiration and a lesson for organisations of all kinds, in all sectors, of how people can work together.”

Source: ESA

Explore further: Short, sharp shocks let slip the stories of supernovae

Related Stories

Titan's atmosphere useful in study of hazy exoplanets

Apr 23, 2015

With more than a thousand confirmed planets outside of our solar system, astronomers are attempting to identify the atmospheres of these distant bodies to determine if they could possibly host life.

Europe's plans to visit the Moon in 2018

Jul 27, 2012

The European Space Agency is aiming for the Moon with their Lunar Lander mission, anticipated to arrive on the lunar surface in 2018. Although ESA successfully put a lander on the surface of Titan with the ...

Which planets have rings?

Feb 06, 2015

Planetary rings are an interesting phenomenon. The mere mention of these two words tends to conjure up images of Saturn, with its large and colorful system of rings that form an orbiting disk. But in fact, ...

Recommended for you

How bad can solar storms get?

21 hours ago

Our sun regularly pelts the Earth with all kinds of radiation and charged particles. How bad can these solar storms get?

Mars rover's ChemCam instrument gets sharper vision

22 hours ago

NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover's "ChemCam" instrument just got a major capability fix, as Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists uploaded a software repair for the auto-focus system on the instrument.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.