Huygens moon probe to land on Titan

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Thursday, January 13, 2005

Huygens probe descent to Titan. (illustration by NASA)
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

The Huygens Probe will enter the atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, on January 14 at approximately 9 a.m. UTC.

The 318 kg probe will hit the Titan atmosphere at 6 kilometers per second. For the next 2.5 hours, Huygens will slow its descent and begin data transmission from on-board scientific packages to the Cassini Orbiter for relay to Earth. It will touch down on the Titan surface at approximately 11:30 a.m. UTC. The probe will continue data transmission for three to 30 minutes, providing it survives the descent and landing.

NASA launched Cassini-Huygens, the largest interplanetary space craft ever built, on October 15, 1997. The craft arrived at Saturn orbit in July of 2004. It is the fourth craft to visit Saturn and the first to orbit the planet.

On December 25, 2004, the Cassini Orbiter released the Huygens Probe. The probe then began a 20-day trip to Titan.

Experiments on board the Huygens Probe are designed to examine chemical reactions in the atmosphere, the source of Titan's abundant methane gas, the existence of oceans, and the presence of complex organic compounds.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).

The probe was named after Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, who discovered Titan in 1655.

The Cassini orbiter was named for Jean-Dominique Cassini, who discovered other moons of Saturn and the gap between Saturn's rings known as the Cassini Division.

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