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Friday, January 14, 2005

Huygens Lands

An artist's rendition of Huygens.
An artist's rendition of Huygens.
Credit: Universe Today
After 7 years of space flight with Cassini and a half-month of flight by itself (since Dec. 25), the Huygens probe has landed on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan. Since 5:25 AM EST, the probe has been sending back a carrier signal that was picked up by the Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia, US. This signal was the probe's way of telling us that it was alive. It contained no scientific data (by design). The probe descended through Titan's thick atmosphere as it told us that its back cover was off as planned. It then released a large parachute, and later, a smaller one to help slow it down before it landed.

At approximately 11:19 AM the ESA received scientific data from the probe. This was humankind's first attempt at landing on anything in the outer solar system. It is worthy of note that Huygens has already outlived its expected lifetime, as many had predicted that Huygens would land on a hydrocarbon sea and sink immediately. The ESA is analyzing the data being forwarded by Cassini, from which we hope to gain a greater understanding of this planet-sized moon with such a high content of hydrocarbons. If the mission is successful, it may lead to further attempts in quests for life on Titan, where there are more of the right chemicals for life than perhaps any other place in the Solar System except Earth, and perhaps Mars.

As more news and pictures arrive, we will post updates. Our congratulations to the ESA for a job well done.

(More info: Universe Today)

- posted by Jim @ 13:15 EST