Ten years ago, European Space Agency’s (ESA) Huygens space probe entered the history books by landing on the surface of Titan, which is Saturn’s largest moon.
Huygens was an atmospheric entry probe that landed successfully on Titan on January 14th, 2005. It was part of the Cassini–Huygens mission and became the first spacecraft ever to land on Titan. The probe was named after the Dutch 17th-century astronomer Christiaan Huygens, who had discovered Titan in 1655.
The Cassini–Huygens spacecraft was launched on October 15, 1997 and the probe landed on the Titan on January 14, 2005 near the Xanadu region. The probe took about two hours and 27 minute minutes to descend to the surface of the Titan and revealed an unprecedented view of the moon. It sent data for about 90 minutes after touchdown, before its batteries drained out. Till date it remains the most distant landing of any man-made craft.
Dr Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, said, “A mission of this ambitious scale represents a triumph in international collaboration. From the mission’s formal beginning in 1982, to Huygens’ spectacular landing 23 years later, to the present day, Cassini-Huygens owes much of its success to the tremendous synergy and cooperation between more than a dozen countries. This teamwork is still a major strength of the project as the Cassini orbiter continues to explore the Saturn system.”
The probe has unveiled vital information about Saturn’s moon. It is frigidly cold on Titan (-292 Fahrenheit). However, for methane that’s near the triple point where it can be a solid, liquid, and gas, just like water on Earth. Titan has a methane cycle, which is the analog to the water cycle on Earth; river channels are clearly seen leading downhill to flatter surfaces. Huygens’ images revealed those vast liquid methane-ethane lakes on Titan. Titan also has a thick atmosphere, which has 95% nitrogen in it. The moon has a photochemical smog, which is thicker than the smog that forms in polluted cities on earth. It has grains of hydrocarbon ice that blow in the wind, forming dunes.