On August 14, 2005, the European Space Agency's (ESA) Huygens probe landed by parachute on the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. To commemorate the eighth anniversary of this historic event, NASA has released an animation that recreates that landing based on instrument readings taken by the unmanned probe during its final descent through the Titanian atmosphere.
The 318 kilogram (701 lb) Huygens probe was launched on October 15, 1997 as a piggyback payload on NASA’s Cassini orbiter as part of a mission to make a detailed exploration of Saturn and its moons. On December 25, 2004, Huygens detached itself from Cassini and fell toward Titan. Because Titan has a substantial atmosphere, the probe was equipped with a heat shield and parachutes for the descent. On touchdown it made history as the first landing ever achieved on a body in the outer Solar System.
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With only 153 minutes of battery life, which had to cover the descent as well as landing, Huygens had only about 30 minutes of power for exploration. During its brief sojourn, Huygens sent back the first surface images of Titan as well as data on the moon’s atmosphere and weather.
The animation released was created by ESA based on data sent back to Earth during the descent by Huygens via the Cassini orbiter, and recreates the last moments before Huygens’ landing not far from a lake of liquid hydrocarbons.
The animation below recreates the Huygens landing.