Huygens mission: Ten years at Titan

Ten years at Titan
Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the pioneering Huygens mission to Saturn's moon Titan, the first successful landing on an outer Solar System world.

Ten years ago, ESA's Huygens probe entered the history books by descending to the surface of Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Humanity's first successful attempt to land a probe on another world in the outer Solar System took place at 13:34 CET (12:34 GMT) on 14 January 2005.

Ten years at Titan
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Huygens hitched a ride to the Saturn system during an epic, seven-year voyage attached to NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The final chapter of the interplanetary trek was a 21-day solo cruise toward the haze-shrouded moon. Plunging into Titan's atmosphere, the probe survived the hazardous 2 hour 27 minute descent to touch down safely on Titan's frozen surface.

Huygens continued to transmit back to Earth, mainly via Cassini, for another 72 minutes before its batteries died. The stream of data provided a unique treasure trove of in situ measurements from the planet-sized satellite which scientists are still mining today.

A new rendering of Huygens descent and touchdown created using real data recorded by the probe’s instruments as it descended to the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, on 14 January 2005. The animation takes into account Titan’s atmospheric conditions, including the Sun and wind direction, the behaviour of the parachute (with some artistic interpretation only on the movement of the ropes after touchdown), and the dynamics of the landing itself.  Even the stones immediately facing Huygens were rendered to match the photograph of the landing site returned from the probe, which is revealed at the end of the animation. Split into four sequences, the animation first shows a wide-angle view of the descent and landing followed by two close-ups of the touchdown from different angles, and finally a simulated view from Huygens itself – the true Huygens experience. Credit: Animation: ESA–C. Carreau/Schröder, Karkoschka et al (2012). Image from Titan’s surface: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

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Jan 14, 2015
It's a shame that Huygens wasn't equipped with a nuclear power source - think of the amount of scientific data that could have been obtained if the lander was able to last as long as one of those Voyager craft!

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