January 14, 2013
ESA Celebrates Huygens Titan Landing 8 Years Later
[ Watch the Video: The Huygens Experience ]
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe OnlineEight years ago today, Huygens became the first probe to touch down on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan.
Huygens was first released from the international Cassini spacecraft on Christmas Day 2004, and it arrived at Titan three weeks later.
Cassini has been orbiting around Saturn since July 2004, and the spacecraft will continue its operations until 2017.
ESA released an animation using real data recorded by Huygen's instruments, allowing everyone to experience the historic landing.
The animation considers the atmospheric conditions on Titan during the event, including the Sun and wind direction. It also considers the behavior of the parachute, and the dynamics of the landing itself, according to ESA.
The stones facing Huygens were even rendered to match the photograph of the landing site returned from the probe.
"Split into four sequences, the animation first shows a wide-angle view of the descent and landing followed by two close-ups of the touchdown from different angles, and finally a simulated view from Huygens itself — the true Huygens experience," the ESA said in a recent statement.
Researchers wrote last year that Huygens dug a hole 4.7-inches deep when it first made contact with Titan's surface.
“A spike in the acceleration data suggests that during the first wobble, the probe likely encountered a pebble protruding by around 2 cm from the surface of Titan, and may have even pushed it into the ground, suggesting that the surface had a consistency of soft, damp sand,” Dr Stefan SchrÃ¶der of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, lead author of the paper reporting the results in Planetary and Space Science, wrote last year.
After bouncing, and sliding for 12 to 15 inches, the probe wobbled back and forth five times until coming to a stop 10 seconds after touchdown.
Upon landing, ESA said that a "fluffy" dust-like material was thrown up and suspended for about four seconds around the probe. SchrÃ¶der said this "fluffy" material was most likely organic aerosols that are known to drizzle out of the Titan atmosphere.
"The dust was easily lifted, suggesting it was most likely dry and that there had not been any ℠rain´ of liquid ethane or methane for some time prior to the landing," the space agency said.
ESA´s Cassini-Huygens project scientist, Nicolas Altobelli, said that Huygens data, even years after mission completion, is still providing scientists with a dynamical "feeling" for the first seconds of landing.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA and ASI, the Italian space agency.