Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends
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samedi 17 janvier 2004
 

Don't be fooled by this clever title. This Lord of the Rings is... Saturn. This news release from the European Space Agency (ESA) tells us that the Huygens spaceprobe will land in about a year on Titan, Saturnís largest moon, in a quest to uncover the origins of life.

The Titan probe was named Huygens in honour of the Dutch astronomer who discovered Titan in 1655. Launched in October 1997, Huygens is currently in space, hitching a ride on NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

Before landing on Titan, Huygens will have to successfully enter Saturn's orbit. Here is a computer-rendered image of Cassini-Huygens during the Saturn Orbit Insertion (SOI) manoeuvre, which will last 90 minutes (Illustration by David Seal, Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech).

Huygens entering Saturn's orbit
Through a small telescope, Saturn is normally visible as a creamy yellow 'star'. You may be able to see the ring system that the planet is famous for, and its largest moon Titan will show up as a tiny dot of light.
That tiny dot is the destination for ESAís Huygens probe and may hold vital clues about how life began on Earth. Titan is the only moon with a thick atmosphere in the Solar System.
Astronomers think this atmosphere might closely match the one Earth possessed millions of years ago, before life began. Certainly Titanís atmosphere is rich in carbon, the chemical necessary for life on Earth. What is more, this is all stored in 'deep freeze', ten times further from the Sun than the Earth.

Here is another illustration showing how the Huygens probe will descend through Titan's murky, brownish-orange atmosphere of nitrogen and carbon-based molecules (Credit: ESA).

Huygens descent on Titan

More information can be found in this Huygens overview. And check this page for other images.

Source: European Space Agency, January 16, 2004; and various websites


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