Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Huygens Titan descent


The European-built Huygens probe was part of the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn - a joint endeavour of ESA, NASA and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). It is the most ambitious effort in planetary space exploration ever mounted. Launched on 15 October 1997, Cassini (a sophisticated robotic spacecraft designed to orbit the ringed planet and study the Saturnian system in detail), bearing the Huygens probe, reached Saturn on 1 July 2004. Cassini delivered Huygens to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, on 14 January 2005. This was the first ever descent and landing onto a celestial body in the outer Solar System, and it provided the most spectacular view of Titan yet.

Now, thanks to the Huygens measurements and also to the complementary, global measurements made by Cassini, we actually know that Titan’s landscapes truly resemble those on Earth, with mountains, lakes, shorelines and outflow channels, where methane plays a role similar to that of water on Earth. By detecting Argon 40, Huygens also helped to reveal that the interior of Titan is still active, as confirmed later by Cassini, which observed icy 'lava' flows emerging from 'cryo-volcanoes'.

The Cassini-Huygens results so far tell us that Titan, once thought to resemble an early, frozen Earth, in reality appears to be as complex as any of the terrestrial planets that have an atmosphere. Huygens has exceeded expectations and shown Titan to be an 'alien earth', probably more similar to our own planet than either Mars or Venus, and is enabling planetary scientists to explore a new, fascinating world.

Huygens landing site to be named after Hubert Curien
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This image provides a comparison between the Huygens landing site on Titan as viewed by the Cassini Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS) and the NACO/SDI instrument mounted on the 8-metre Yepun telescope of the VLT (Very Large Telescope) station, in Chile.

ESA Press Release 13-2007. As of 14 March, an epic space mission and one of the founding fathers of the European space endeavour will be forever linked.

ESA, the international Committee for Space Research (COSPAR) and NASA have decided to honour Professor Hubert Curien’s contribution to European space by naming the Huygens landing site on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, after him.

Cassini over Saturn - Enceladus and Rings by Louise Riofrio
PIA09180: Titan: Larger and Larger Lakes from JPL NASA
Venera 14 landing on Venus & Celestial coordinates by Astroprof

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