Ten years since landing on Titan

The Huygens probe gave the first glimpse of the surface of Saturn's moon.

A
a
-
The Huygens probe took several images of the surface throughout its descent.
Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Ten years ago the Huygen’s lander parachuted down onto the hazy world of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. The mission, a joint endeavour between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency, is the only time that mankind has landed on a body in the outer Solar System.

The probe was launched on 15 October 1997 along with the Cassini probe, which is still in orbit around Saturn, imaging the planet and its moons. On Christmas Day 2004, the lander separated from Cassini, finally touching down on the surface three weeks later on 14 January 2005.

The moon is surrounded by a thick atmosphere of nitrogen and methane, obscuring the surface from Earth, meaning that it was uncertain if it would solid or covered in an ocean. But as the probe descended it sent back images of an icy world, covered in boulders of water ice and rivers of methane.

Most of Titan’s on board instruments were tasked with analysing the density and composition of the atmosphere, including a microphone that transmitted the first audible sounds ever heard from another world. The instruments created a map of the moon's atmosphere, finding layers of haze at different altitudes and a surface pressure 1.47 times that of Earth.

It took the probe two and a half hours to reach the surface, landing in what appeared to be a dried up river bed and took the first images from the surface of a body in the outer Solar System. The surface appeared to be covered in a ‘sand’ of ice grains, and radio signals through the moon revealed the presence of a subsurface ocean 55 to 80 km below the surface.

The batteries on the lander only lasted 72 minutes after touch down, but in that short window the Huygens probe gave us a unique view of this distant world.


 

Like this article? Why not:
Magnetic storm on Comet Lovejoy
previous news Article
Beagle-2 found on Mars!
next news Article
We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here