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Away she goes - Huygens probe on its way to Titan

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12/25/2004 05:57 AM
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Away she goes - Huygens probe on its way to Titan
Titan is getting its own xmas present this year as the Huygens probe is jetisoned towards the surface of Titan for a hopefull and safe landing.

Good luck on your descent, a long journey it has been to finaly arrive and head to its sacred and historical journey down to the surface of a world that may reveal Earths primordial beginnings.

In 3 weeks Huygens will make up as it enters the shrouded and mysterious vale of gas that has kept Astronomers with their Earth bound telescopes guessing for so long.

Soon the vail will be lifted and a world more alive than anything seen yet will be revealed. The rooms will be beaming with many a scientists eyes buldging out of their sockets as they sit back and watch a telecast delay beaming reality TV from Titan.

May the discoveries be wide sweeping and vast in number, I think this mission will have a profound impact.

GL HH and Merry Xmas

Either wasy its a nice birthday present
for me to be able to see the landing on Janurary 14th :)
[link to ciclops.lpl.arizona.edu]
This Titan image, revealing the bright īcontinent-sizedī terrain known as Xanadu, was acquired with the narrow angle camera through a spectral filter centered at 938 nm, a wavelength region at which Titanīs surface can be most easily detected. We see the surface at higher contrast then in previously-released ISS images due to a lower phase angle (sun-Titan-Cassini angle), a viewing geometry which minimizes scattering by the haze. The image shows details about 10 times smaller than can be seen from the Earth. Surface materials with different brightnesses (or albedos) rather than topographic shading are being seen. The image has been calibrated and slightly contrast-enhanced. Further processing to reduce atmospheric blurring and optimize the mapping of surface features will be released soon. The origin and geography of Xanada (erosion of highlands, volcanism, impact cratering, etc.) remain mysteries at this range. Bright features near the south pole (bottom) are clouds. Tomorrow, Cassini will acquire images from about 100 times closer range and higher resolution, showing features in the left-central portion of this image.

[link to news.bbc.co.uk]

Huygens probe unleashed on Titan
Huygens probe (Nasa/Esa)
Huygens will now coast for three weeks before entering Titan
The Huygens probe has been released and is heading for Saturnīs largest moon, Titan, scientists have confirmed.

A signal that the robot lab had separated from its mothership, Cassini, was received by the US space agency at its Jet Propulsion lab in Pasadena.

Huygens is now in a sleep mode and will take three weeks to reach the smog-shrouded satellite of Saturn.

When it enters Titanīs atmosphere, the probe will have just a few hours to collect data before its batteries die.

This is the length of time the 2.7m-wide probe will be in view of Cassini, the relay station through which the data on the moonīs environment will be sent back to Earth.

Mysterious patterns

Researchers will be delighted with any information the US-European robot can return on the thick nitrogen-rich "air" that surrounds Titan; but the jackpot prize will be to get pictures back from the surface.

Such is the chemistry and temperature (-180C) on Titan that scientists suspect it may harbour lakes, even great seas, of methane or ethane.

Scientists are unsure of the type of surface Huygens will meet

More details
In which case, there is every possibility that Huygens will make a splashdown and take the very first extraterrestrial oceanographic measurements.

So far, all efforts to get detailed pictures of the moonīs surface have been frustrated by a photochemical smog that hides the true nature of its landforms.

Even Cassiniīs remarkable instruments have struggled to get at the facts. Scientists can see dark and bright regions on the surface, but quite what they represent no-one is really sure.

"What weīre looking at is just two-dimensional patterns," explained Dr Carolyn Porco, the Cassini imaging team leader.

"Some of us still think the black stuff may be the equivalent of an ocean, a solidified ocean or viscous material; but that is by no means a conclusion at this stage."

Nervous wait

Ground controllers received confirmation at 0324 GMT that the 319kg robot lab had ejected from Cassini.

The probe was released at a gentle, relative speed of 30cm/s and at a spin rate of seven revolutions per second, which will help stabilise the craft when it enters Titanīs atmosphere.

Huygens diagram (Nasa/Esa)
1. HASI - measures physical and electrical properties of Titanīs atmosphere
2. GCMS - identifies and measures chemical species abundant in moonīs īairī
3. ACP - draws in and analyses atmospheric aerosol particles
4. DISR - images descent and investigates light levels
5. DWE - studies direction and strength of Titanīs winds
6. SSP - determines physical properties of moonīs surface
That entry is scheduled to begin at just after 0900GMT on the 14 January - although it will be some hours later before scientists on Earth learn if the mission has been a success or a failure.

The Saturnian system is so far from Earth that it takes over an hour for signals to be sent back, even at light-speed.

For many of the British researchers working on the project, it is another anxious Christmas and New Year. Last December and January they were waiting for news of their ill-fated Martian lander, Beagle 2.

It was eventually declared lost after repeated attempts to contact the robot drew a blank. They think it was probably destroyed when it entered the Red Planetīs atmosphere too fast.

This year, many of the same workers are back and keeping their fingers crossed that Huygens fares better.

"I should be absolutely ecstatic; Iīve been waiting for this moment, really, for 15 years," Open University Professor John Zarnecki told BBC News. "But for the first time in that period, Iīm starting to feel nervous."

Professor Zarnecki is the Principal Investigator for the Surface Science Package on Huygens. His team could get the most amazing images and data of the entire mission - they could equally draw a complete blank.

Great adventure

His OU colleague Professor Colin Pillinger was the lead scientist on Beagle and is philosophical about the outcome.

"The guys who work on these missions do everything they possibly can; they check through everything," he said. "Letīs hope itīs not the season for repeats on television."

Titan is unique in the Solar System

Enlarge Image
Launched on 15 October, 1997, Cassini-Huygens went into orbit around Saturn on 1 July this year after a voyage of 3.5 billion km (2.2 billion miles).

The $3.2bn mission is a joint venture between the US space agency (Nasa), the European Space Agency (Esa) and the Italian Space Agency (Asi).

The adventure has already produced some extraordinary pictures of the ringed planet and its moons - the images surpass anything previously obtained.

The two spacecraft components of the mission are named after 17th-Century astronomers who made the first clear observations of Saturn and its moons, Italian Jean-Dominique Cassini and Dutchman Christiaan Huygens.

Although the short life of Huygensī batteries means nothing will be heard from the probe after 14 January, the mothership Cassiniīs mission around the Saturnian system will continue for at least another three-and-a-half years.
Minbari  (OP)

12/08/2005 10:10 AM
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Re: Away she goes - Huygens probe on its way to Titan
Truely gorgeous colours in this shot..

[link to www.esa.int]

17 December 2004
This is an ultraviolet image of Titanīs night-side limb, colourised to look like true colour. The many fine haze layers extend several hundred kilometres above the surface. Although this is a night-side view, with only a thin crescent receiving direct sunlight, the haze layers are bright from light scattered through the atmosphere.

The image was taken with the Cassini-Huygens narrow-angle camera. About 12 distinct haze layers can be seen in this image, with a scale of 0.7 kilometres per pixel. The limb shown here is at about 10 degrees south latitude, in the equatorial region.

Credits: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Anonymous Coward
12/08/2005 10:10 AM
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Re: Away she goes - Huygens probe on its way to Titan
Anonymous Coward
12/08/2005 10:10 AM
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Re: Away she goes - Huygens probe on its way to Titan
Excellent post, OP.

Nice to see real, wondrous science; pure and simple, without conspiracies, aliens, or huge invisible planets.
Richard Stanz  (OP)

12/08/2005 10:10 AM
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Re: Away she goes - Huygens probe on its way to Titan
This is absolutely the COOLEST thing to come out of the space program since we landed on that asteroid a couple of years ago. Well, except maybe for the Mars landings.... but this is cooler because you canīt see Titanīs surface, nobody knows whatīs under them clouds.

Godspeed, Huygens!
etc, etc, etc...  (OP)

12/08/2005 10:10 AM
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Re: Away she goes - Huygens probe on its way to Titan
Now this is good stuff, barring any alienship craziness. Just hope that they got their conversions right.

Check out APOD today for further great Saturn magnificence : [link to antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov]
Mim  (OP)

12/08/2005 10:10 AM
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Re: Away she goes - Huygens probe on its way to Titan
they got their conversions right.

Hehe. I canīt see them making this mistake ever again. It still baffles me as to why the US keeps on teaching and using the imperial system...

I cant even think in the imperial system.

Its just a shame the hyugens will only last a short period of time. Here is hoping that Huygens lands in a safe zone and keep power up for much longer than expected.