When Cassini launched in 1997, it carried with it a special payload: a probe named Huygens that would penetrate the permanent haze of Saturn’s largest moon Titan, and reveal to us the shrouded world below.
Huygens descent module and shield – Credit: ESA
And what a world Titan is!
It’s larger than Mercury, approaching the diameter of Mars (Titan: 5,150 km / Mars: 6,780 km). It has an atmosphere with superrotating winds, composed of 95 nitrogen and 5% methane. And it has an abundance of massive liquid methane lakes and rivers. A truly dynamic place that can only be referred to as a world.
And we owe most of what we know about Titan thanks to Huygens and Cassini.
Four images obtained at different altitudes during Titan’s descent – Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
The probe was named after the man who discovered Titan in 1655, the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens.
After a seven year journey, Cassini entered Saturn’s orbit on July 1, 2004. On Christmas Day of that year (Spacecraft Event Time), the shelled Huygens probe separated from Cassini and began its three-week coast to Titan’s surface. Finally, on January 14, 2005, Huygens fell through Titan’s atmosphere, slowed ...