Saturday, January 15, 2005

Successful landing for Huygens

A successful landing for the Huygens probe after its seven year journey to reach Saturn's moon Titan...

CREDIT: ESA/NASA/University of Arizona
This composite was produced from images returned yesterday, 14 January 2005, by ESA's Huygens probe during its successful descent to land on Titan. It shows a full 360-degree view around Huygens. The left-hand side, behind Huygens, shows a boundary between light and dark areas. The white streaks seen near this boundary could be ground 'fog' of methane or ethane vapour, as they were not immediately visible from higher altitudes. As the probe descended, it drifted over a plateau (centre of image) and was heading towards its landing site in a dark area (right). This dark area is possibly a drainage channel which might still contain liquid material. From the drift of the probe, the wind speed has been estimated at around 6-7 metres per second. These images were taken from an altitude of about 8 kilometres with a resolution of about 20 metres per pixel.

Launched in October 1997 on a Titan-IVB/Centaur from Cape Canaveral, and after making four gravity-assisted swing-by manoeuvres, Cassini-Huygens arrived at Saturn in July last year. Towards the end of Cassini's third orbit around the gas giant it released the Huygens probe on a ballistic trajectory towards the Saturn's moon Titan.

A view of ESOC's Main Control Room taken at 13:12 GMT, 14 January 2005, as flight control staff awaited the arrival of the first data from Huygens which was by then known to have survived it's entry in Titan's atmosphere.

Huygens entered Titan's atmosphere at 10:13 GMT yesterday, and at 10:25 GMT telemetry was recieved by the Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia, USA indicating that the first of three parachutes had deployed, removing the rear cover from the probe and uncovering it's main antenna. A sequence of parachutes then slowed it's decent, and the probe touched down at 12:34 GMT. Data from the probe, relayed to Earth via the Cassini probe, was later picked up by NASA's Deep Space Network and handed on to ESA's European Space Operation Centre in Darmstadt, Germany for analysis.