This photo shows the Cassini spacecraft as it flew in and out of Saturn’s ring plane. The photo is part of a movie with accompanying sounds recorded by Cassini’s radio and plasma wave science instrument. On June 30, 2004, the spacecraft crossed the ring plane, where its high-gain antenna was bombarded with dust particles that produced this cacophony of sound reminiscent of a hailstorm. Exciting the rings produces similar sights and sounds, which are seen at the end of the movie. Click Here to View the Full Movie

Photo by NASA/JPL / University of Iowa


Reaching New Frontiers – Spacecraft Huygens
Lands Successfully on Saturn’s Moon Titan

This is the colored view, following processing to add reflection spectra data, and gives a better indication of the actual color of the surface. Initially thought to be rocks or ice blocks, they are more pebble-sized. The two rock-like objects just below the middle of the image are about 15 centimeters (about 6 inches) (left) and 4 centimeters (about 1.5 inches) (center) across respectively, at a distance of about 85 centimeters (about 33 inches) from Huygens. The surface is darker than originally expected, consisting of a mixture of water and hydrocarbon ice. There is also evidence of erosion at the base of these objects, indicating possible fluvial activity.

Photo by ESA / NASA / Univ. of Arizona

After its seven-year journey through the Solar System on board the Cassini spacecraft, ESA’s Huygens probe has successfully descended through the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon and safely landed on its surface.

The first scientific data arrived at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, this afternoon at 17:19 CET, January 14. Huygens is mankind’s first successful attempt to land a probe on another world in the outer Solar System. “This is a great achievement for Europe and its US partners in this ambitious international endeavour to explore Saturn system”, said Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director Geneal.

Following its release from the Cassini mothership on 25 December, Huygens reached Titan’s outer atmosphere after 20 days and a 4 million km cruise. The probe started its descent through Titan’s hazy cloud layers from an altitude of about 1270 km at 11:13 CET. During the following three minutes Huygens had to decelerate from 18 000 to 1400 km per hour.

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 (To hear the sounds recorded during Huygens’ descent Click Here). 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, when the Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia, USA, picked up a fain but unmistakable radio signal from the probe. Radio telescopes on Earth continued to receive this signal well past the expected lifetime of Huygens.

Huygens data, relayed by Cassini, were picked up by NASA’s Deep Space Network and delivered immediately to ESA’s European Space Operation Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, where the scientific analysis is currently taking place.

“Titan was always the target in the Saturn system where the need for ‘ground truth’ from a probe was critical. It is a fascinating world and we are now eagerly awaiting the scientific results,” says Professor David Southwood, Director of ESA’s scientific programmme.

“The Huygens scientists are all delighted. This was worth the long wait,” says Dr Jean-Pierre Lebreton, ESA Huygens Mission Manager. Huygens is expected to provide the first direct and detailed sampling of Titan’s atmospheric chemistry and the first photographs of its hidden surface, and will supply a detailed ‘weather report’.

One of the main reasons for sending Huygens to Titan is that its nitrogen atmosphere, rich in methane, and its surface may contain many chemicals of the kind that existed on the young Earth. Combined with the Cassini observations, Huygens will afford an unprecedented view of Saturn’s mysterious moon.

“Descending through Titan was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and today’s achievement proves that our partnership with ESA was an excellent one” says Alphonso Diaz, NASA Associate Administrator of Science.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperation between NASA, the European Space Agency and ASI, the Italian space agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, is managing the mission for NASA’s Office of Space Science, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

“The teamwork in Europe and the USA, between scientists, industry and agencies has been extraordinary and has set the foundations for today’s enormous success,” concludes Jean-Jacques Dordain.

Articles Related to Cassini, Saturn, and the Successful Landing of Huygens:

** NASA Salutes Successful Huygens Probe
** Life to Appear in Titan? Possible, Says German Scientist
** Titan Looks Like Ice-Cream, Says ESA Man as Probe Photographs Saturn Satellite

NASA Salutes Successful Huygens Probe

This Cassini image shows predominantly the impact-scarred leading hemisphere of Saturn’s icy moon Rhea (1,528 kilometers, or 949 miles across). The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow angle camera on Dec. 12, 2004, at a distance of 2 million kilometers (1.2 million miles) from Rhea and at a Sun-Rhea-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 30 degrees. The image scale is about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) per pixel. The image has been magnified by a factor of two and contrast enhanced to aid visibility.

Photo by NASA/JPL / Space Science Institute

(NASA) NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe offered congratulations to the European Space Agency (ESA) on the successful touchdown of its Huygens probe on Saturn’s moon Titan.

"The descent through Titan’s atmosphere and down to its surface appeared to be perfect," Administrator O’Keefe said. "We congratulate ESA for their spectacular success. We’re very proud of the Cassini-Huygens teams that helped to make this both an engineering and scientific victory, and we appreciate the dedication and support from our international partners."

The probe entered Titan’s upper atmosphere at about 5:15 a.m. EST Jan. 14. During its two and one-half hour descent to the surface of the moon, it sampled the chemical composition of the atmosphere. The probe continued transmitting data for more than 90 minutes after reaching the surface.

The data was sent to NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, and was recorded and relayed through NASA’s Deep Space Network to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and to ESA’s Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany. The European Space Agency facility is the operations center for the Huygens probe mission. Data was received over one of two channels designed to be mostly redundant.

JPL Director Dr. Charles Elachi said, "We congratulate our colleagues at ESA on the splendid performance of the Huygens probe and look forward to the science results of this effort. This has been a great example of international collaboration to explore our solar system."

Cassini-Huygens is a joint mission of NASA, ESA and the Italian Space Agency. ESA’s Huygens probe was carried to Saturn’s orbit aboard Cassini, and sent on its way to Titan on Dec. 24, 2004. Cassini continues to orbit Saturn on a four-year prime mission to study the planet, its rings, moons and magnetosphere.

"Our ESA colleagues have every reason to be very proud of the excellent manner in which the Huygens probe performed," said Robert T. Mitchell, Cassini program manager at JPL. "We are also proud of our support for this endeavor," he said.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter. ESA built and managed the development of the Huygens probe and is in charge of the probe operations. ISA provided the high-gain antenna, much of the radio system and elements of several of Cassini’s science instruments.

Life to Appear in Titan? Possible, Says German Scientist

BERLIN (RIA Novosti) – Life may appear in Titan, Saturn’s largest satellite, in two billion years or so, says Bernhard von Weie of the European Space Agency German branch in Darmstadt.

Atmosphere of Titan resembles what Earth had 3.8 billion years ago, judging by information coming from the Huygens probe after it got through initial decoding. Easily discernible in its photographs are methane rivers, a lake and ice patches, so there is a certain chance of life appearing there in the very distant future, the scientist said to Novosti in a telephone interview.

Huygens achievements surpass all expectations. All equipment was doing fine-that after a seven-year space odyssey. Tremendous success crowned ESA work to put an end to all apprehensions.

The probe was offering information even longer than expected. Its work in the Titan atmosphere lasted two hours and a half, plus an hour and a half on the planet surface. The ESA obtained 350 high-precision photographs experts will thoroughly study. More than that, there are sound recordings, with noises resembling strong wind.

The planet is bathed in red-orange light the photos show. According to other Huygens data, the planet is extremely cold-minus 180 degrees centigrade on the surface.

Titan Looks Like Ice-Cream, Says ESA Man
as Probe Photographs Saturn Satellite

MOSCOW, January 15 (RIA Novosti, by Alexander Kovalev) – The Titan surface is not unlike creme brulee ice-cream, says Alain Fournier-Sycre, official European Space Agency representative in Moscow.

This likeness became evident with initial analyses of decoded information from the Huygens probe, which photographed Saturn’s largest satellite. That means its solid soil is coated in a layer of pasty substance several centimeters thick. All this is only a first impression. ESA experts will be surer after they decode information from Titan drilling, he said to Novosti.

ESA experts also heard noises Huygens had recorded while entering the Titan atmosphere. "These were rustling sounds as distinct as if you were on board the craft," remarked our interviewee.

Huygens fulfilled its mission in full. A first-ever endeavor to study Titan was triumphant success. The craft lasted throughout its scheduled two hours and a half before its batteries went off. Now, it will stay idle on Titan surface forever.