Huygens Lands On Titan

By on January 14, 2005

The Huygens space probe made its descent to the Saturn moon Titan today, and early signs seem to indicate that the mission may have been an even greater success than was hoped.

A sequence of parachutes then slowed it down to less than 300 km per hour. At a height of about 160 km the probe’s scientific instruments were exposed to Titan’s atmosphere. At about 120 km, the main parachute was replaced by a smaller one to complete the descent, with an expected touchdown at 13:34 CET. Preliminary data indicate that the probe landed safely, likely on a solid surface.

The probe began transmitting data to Cassini four minutes into its descent and continued to transmit data after landing at least as long as Cassini was above Titan’s horizon. The certainty that Huygens was alive came already at 11:25 CET today, when the Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia, USA, picked up a faint but unmistakable radio signal from the probe. Radio telescopes on Earth continued to receive this signal well past the expected lifetime of Huygens.

ESA and NASA scientists are still going over the data they’re receiving, and it’s likely that they’ll have some interesting things to report later this afternoon. Cool.



  1. cool…but as far as i am concerned, a HUGE waste of coin.

    let’s make a list on how this could have better been spent. i’ll even go first.

    cancer research.

  2. I complained to a coworker once that the Mars trip seemed like a big waste of money. He repsonded that the same thing was said about the space race in the 60s, and then commented on how many technologies came out of that (advances with computers, etc). Maybe there will be some unintended discoveries? Maybe the aliens on Titan have the cure for cancer.

  3. And on Titan we find…. More rocks.

    I tend to fall in the camp that space exploration drives innovation. I am encouraged to see more private effort in aerospace, though.

    Rob made an interesting point: Huygens left Earth NINE YEARS ago, with the most advanced technology that they could put on board at the time. It must be frustrating for the mission controllers to be looking at Titan through a million-dollar digital camera that’s less powerful than the $300 one that they have in their coat pocket.

  4. What I find amazing is that they can launch something, keep it heading in the right direction for nine years, get it into a stable orbit around a planet many millions of miles away, then launch a second craft and have it land on a planet we’ve barely seen.

    Meanwhile, I lose my keys at least once a week and my kid beats me at Connect Four.

  5. This thread reminds me of a line from an old Larry Norman song (early Christian rocker; “Readers Digest” from the album Only Visiting This Planet.)

    We need a solution, we need salvation, Let’s send some people to the moon to gather information! They brought back a big bag o’rocks; Only cost 13 billion. Must be nice rocks.

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