Cassini-Huygens and Titan
The descent of the probe lasted about two hours before it hit the cold ground of Titan, from which continued to broadcast for another hour before the batteries ran out. Even on Huygens, as Cassini, the Italian instrumentation is not missing.
Eleven years ago, on 14 January 2005, the Cassini spacecraft, a collaboration of three space agencies, NASA, ESA and ASI, parachuted on Saturn’s moon Titan, the Huygens probe. This crossed the icy shell, providing the first images of that world, that very reminiscent of the planet Earth in its very first initial phase, even when the methane and volcanic activity characterized its atmosphere and its surface.
The images were taken by the radiometer spectral probe during its descent to Titan.
The descent of the probe lasted about two hours before it hit the cold ground of Titan, from which continued to broadcast for another hour before the batteries ran out. Even on Huygens, as Cassini, the Italian instrumentation is not missing. H-ASI’s name was in fact the tool developed by the Italian Space Agency designed to measure the physical properties of the atmosphere and surface of Titan.
Huygens is the first human object, the only one at the time, landed on one of the satellites of the planets that characterize the outer solar system. Integral part of a mission, the Cassini-Huygens, which was launched in 1997, it entered the Saturn system in the summer of 2004 for the expected four years of study. Since then it’s been more than ten years and the Cassini spacecraft continues to give us valuable information on the ringed planet and its many and cold moons.
“We were all in Darmstadt – reminds Enrico Flamini scientific coordinator of the Italian Space Agency- waiting for the data for the long three hours or so, in which the High Gain Antenna must point toward Titan and wait for the transmitter Huygens began, after the opening of the second parachute, to transfer the data acquired during the descent to Cassini. Only at the end of the whole mission of Huygens, when Cassini was now beyond the horizon of Titan, it was seen by Huygens. The HGA was returned to Earth and all data were transmitted. “At that moment I was with the team of H-i, not with my hat program manager, but as a co-investigator all glued to our screens, starting with the PI Marcello Fulchignoni, observing the data that came from one mode until then unknown. Ten years have passed since that day – concludes Flamini – which marked the history of planetary exploration.
Cassini continued since then to observe Saturn, Titan, Enceldo and other inner moons, we are watching as the seasons are changing the extension of the lakes of methane, of which we were able to determine even the depth, we have determined the existence of an ocean beneath the icy surface of Titan, but the data from Huygens purchases during the 2 hours and a half of his life are and will remain the reference for future generations on the situation in situ of the atmosphere and the surface. “