The Cassini probe is the 4th space probe that has been sent to investigate Saturn and its biggest moon, Titan. It arrived there over a decade ago, in 2004. Cassini is an orbiter that was sent along with a lander, Huygens. While Cassini took pictures of Saturn’s landscape from orbit, Huygens went and landed on Titan and was able to get a much closer look.
This has provided us with a look at Titan that we have never had before, and the landscape is amazing. Titan is very special, because it is the only other place in space that we have discovered an active weather cycle that has rainfall that erodes and forms the landscape.
NASA has finally released the images that Huygens has collected from its time on Titan. Carolyn Porco is the Cassini imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. She said: “The Huygens images were everything our images from orbit were not.”
“Instead of hazy, sinuous features that we could only guess were streams and drainage channels, here was incontrovertible evidence that at some point in Titan’s history – and perhaps even now – there were flowing liquid hydrocarbons on the surface. Huygens’ images became a Rosetta stone for helping us interpret our subsequent findings on Titan,” she added.
When the probes run out of fuel, they will self-destruct by hurtling into Saturn’s atmosphere, but this is far from the last time we visit Saturn and her moons. The next step is to go back to Titan and investigate if there is any life in its liquid methane seas.
Huygens was the first landing that has been been accomplished successfully in the outer Solar System. It detached from Cassini when they arrived to Saturn and finally made it to Titan in 2005. Cassini and Huygens are scheduled to self-destruct in September of 2017.
This method of destruction was chosen as to not cause an potential biological contamination of Titan. The Huygens probe was named for the Dutch astronomer, mathematician, and physicist Christiaan Huygens who was the scientists to discover Titan.