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: New countdown for launch of European navigation satellites

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Titan offers clues to atmospheres of hazy planets

Jul 28, 2014

When hazy planets pass across the face of their star, a curious thing happens. Astronomers are not able to see any changes in the range of light coming from the star and planet system.

MIPT-based researcher models Titan's atmosphere

Jul 24, 2014

A researcher from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Prof. Vladimir Krasnopolsky, who heads the Laboratory of High Resolution Infrared Spectroscopy of Planetary Atmospheres, has published the results of the comparison ...

Cassini celebrates 10 years exploring Saturn

Jun 26, 2014

It has been a decade since a robotic traveler from Earth first soared over rings of ice and fired its engine to fall forever into the embrace of Saturn. On June 30, the Cassini mission will celebrate 10 years ...

Titan's building blocks might pre-date Saturn

Jun 24, 2014

(Phys.org) —A combined NASA and European Space Agency (ESA)-funded study has found firm evidence that nitrogen in the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan originated in conditions similar to the cold birthplace ...

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 ...

Recommended for you

NKorea launch pad expansion 'nearing completion'

11 hours ago

A U.S. research institute says construction to upgrade North Korea's main rocket launch pad should be completed by fall, allowing Pyongyang (pyuhng-yahng) to conduct a launch by year's end if it decides to do so.

Mars, Saturn and the claws of Scorpius

17 hours ago

Look up at the night sky this week and you'll find Mars and Saturn together in the west. Mars stands out with its reddish colouring and you might just be able to detect a faint yellow tinge to Saturn. ...

User comments : 0