Want to know how the second largest planet in our solar system looks like? You have been privileged with this jaw-dropping footage courtesy the space probe sent to the hazy and cold atmosphere of Titan, which is the largest moon of Saturn, back in 2005.
The spacecraft — named the Huygens probe — was sent by the European Space Agency along with its mothership the Cassini spacecraft on to learn more about Saturn and its 53 known moons. Huygens touched down on Titan’s surface on Jan. 14, 2005, exactly three weeks after separating from the Cassini. And to commemorate this landmark moment in planetary science, the mission team has released the video of the historic touchdown.
Watch the video below and relive the Huygens’ descent to Titan’s surface 12 years ago shot from spacecraft’s point of view.
The footage spots “drainage canals” suggesting the existence of liquid methane rivers running on the moon and setting down on the surface.
NASA’s Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, talked in a statement about this astonishing interaction with Titan’s surface:
“The Huygens descent and landing represented a major breakthrough in our exploration of Titan as well as the first soft landing on an outer-planet moon. It completely changed our understanding of this haze-covered ocean world.”
The Huygens probe did transmit some data after the landing but shut down shortly after due to unknown reasons. Since then, scientists have tried to make the most of the few images and information sent back to the station by the intrepid probe along with using the functional Cassini spacecraft to take some more photos of the cold and eerie moon.
Cassini scientist Alex Hayes, of Cornell University in New York,
“Cassini and Huygens have shown us that Titan is an amazing world with a landscape that mimics Earth in many ways. During its descent, the Huygens probe captured views that demonstrated an entirely new dimension to that comparison and highlighted that there is so much more we have yet to discover.”
“For me, Huygens has emphasized why it is so important that we continue to explore Titan.”
The $3.2 billion Cassini-Huygens mission is a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency.
The photos sent back by Cassini shows Titan’s lakes of liquid methane and ethane, along with sand dunes present on the moon’s surface. These images are truly rare, especially because Cassini is about to end its mission at Saturn.
In April, the Cassini mothership will initiate its “Grand Finale” phase, which is a series of 22 dives from Saturn’s cloud tops to the planet’s innermost ring. On Sept. 15, the probe is scheduled to perform an intentional death plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere, which will ensure that any microbes on the craft don’t contaminate Titan or any other celestial body, which will finally close its cameras forever from the multi-ringed world and its four dozen moons.