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Space Science

Huygens Probe Lands on Titan 686

WillDraven writes "CNN, NASA and the ESA are reporting that the Huygens space probe has entered the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan after traveling 2.2 billion miles. Pictures from the moon's surface should be available sometime this afternoon" according to the NASA TV schedule. What we know so far is that Huygens landed successfully and sent at least the carrier signal from the surface to Cassini for 90+ minutes, more than expected, and that Cassini has successfully repointed at the Earth and begun relaying the data it received, beginning with test packets. Huygens now sits on Titan, silent forever, while we wait to see whether or how much valuable data Cassini obtained and can send back. Update: 01/14 17:20 GMT by M : So far: they report zero lost packets in the transmission, but one of the two independent data-collection systems is apparently giving some problems. Update: 01/14 21:40 GMT by J : The news is pretty much all good: a very successful mission. Expect to see many photos within hours, but for now apparently only three have been released. Ice blocks or rolling stones -- let the debates begin!
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Huygens Probe Lands on Titan

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  • by daveashcroft ( 321122 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:21PM (#11362549)
    Straight from the JPL:

    01000001 01101100 01101100 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 01110010 00100000 01100010 01100001 01110011 01100101 00100000 01100001 01110010 01100101 00100000 01100010 01100101 01101100 01101111 01101110 01100111 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01110101 01110011 00100001
  • by Anonymous Coward all involved engineers, scientists and all other people who made this possible!
  • The last updates I've seen indicate that the lander is still sending out a signal - its just that Cassini is no longer in its line-of-sight so there is no one listening :)

    First data should be coming in from Cassini any minute now...

  • Any pics yet? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FortKnox ( 169099 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:22PM (#11362569) Homepage Journal
    I know it'll be a while, but I anxiously await the pictures and the sound (yes, they have a mic onboard). I guess it'll mostly be hissing, but it'll be interesting to HEAR a distant planet (one whom has a thick and nasty atmosphere).
  • I can't wait to see the results (and hopefully pictures)

    Too bad they put such a low resolution imager on it :-(
  • Is this because of something along the lines of the harsh environment breaking the probe down? Battery life?

    While I do think it's nifty, in comparison, you have to love the Mars rovers' abilities to continue functioning so we can explore as we learn, rather than having everything pre-planned.
    • by FortKnox ( 169099 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:26PM (#11362640) Homepage Journal
      Two reasons:
      1.) Its antenna is only strong enough to send signals to cassini, and cassini only 'see' Huygens for so long before it sets over the Titan planet.
      2.) Its battery life is very short (because they knew they'd only have such a short time to transmit the data to cassini).

      The planet IS harsh (like -290F), but its built to survive it long enough to talk to Cassini until it sets.
    • Well that was a bit of hyperbole in terms of the article writer...

      The probe could still be transmitting now - but the problem is that the Cassini probe is the only one close enough to recieve it - and it only had line-of-sight with the Huygens Lander for a few hours. By the time they re-establish line of sight again (I have no idea when) - they landers batteries will be long run down - they were only designed to run a few hours once atmospheric entry began.

    • On mars, you have relativly civil temperaturs. You can use batteries,ect.
      On Titan, you are at -160 C IIRC. No chemical batteries will work at that temperature, nor most sensors or computational parts (you need the electrons of the doped atoms in the conduction band).
      So its a matter of isolation and heat capacity.
    • by egomaniac ( 105476 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:36PM (#11362789) Homepage
      Battery life. The probe, if I remember correctly, has five LiSO2 batteries that are its sole power source (along with some 1W radioactive heaters simply to maintain its temperature).

      The trip to Titan took three weeks, and there was at least some electrical activity on the probe that whole time (I know it had a timer set to "wake it up" for the descent). Then the probe kicked into high gear for the descent, running all its systems off the batteries.

      It was expected to go dead sooner than it did, but the lost data probably wouldn't have told us much -- after it had been sitting on the surface for a few minutes, it had probably already reported everything interesting.

      The lost Huygens trasmissions:

      Yep, still cold.

      My batteries are getting kinda low.

      Still cold. This rock is hurting my ass.

      God damned this rock. It's poking right into my radiothermal heater.

      Holy shit it's cold here.

      Batteries about to give out. Hey, is anybody listening?

      Heeeellllo, anybody there? Cassini? Can you hear me?

      Great, I'm going to die with a fucking rock in my ass and nobody listening to me.
  • by VAXGeek ( 3443 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:24PM (#11362586) Homepage
    all these worlds are yours, except Europa.
    attempt no landings there.
    • Uh oh [].

      "NASA and the scientific community are considering adding a Europa lander to JIMO. The high-tech lander could make on-the-spot surface observations at the Jovian satellite. Europa is thought to harbor an ocean under its icy crust."
  • hmm, there was some cheering some minutes ago on nasa tv. seems like theyre receiving some data.
  • Space travel has not progressed like it should have in the decades following the amazing progress of the 1960s. Hell, it hasn't progressed like the exploration of the New World in the 1500s.

    I feel that it is because we have become completely and hopelessly terrified of danger. Many men and women died (yes, tragically) in those eras exploring the great unknown. But without their sacrifice, we would never have been able to accomplish what we have (please no "settling the new world = genocide" lectures).

    Apollo 1, The Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia's losses were all tragic. And I am NOT saying that their loss should be shrugged off as "eh, someone had to die to explore space." What I am saying is that we as humans needed to grow and explore space, much as the Europeans needed to grow and explore beyond their continent. When there was a tragic event in colonial exploration (Jamestown), those people learned from their mistake and tried again and usually succeeded. When we fail today, we usually cower up and shut down all exploration for a half-decade or so.

    Hell, look at how these stupid hippies tried to stop Cassini from ever occuring []. They were so afraid of the 0.001% chance of Cassini crashing into Earth (which itself had a fraction of a percent chance of actually contaminating the planet with any plutonium) that they wanted the entire mission shut down.

    Scared people like this, afraid to take chances are what almost kept us from everything glorious we're learning today and everything we will learn from Cassini tomorrow. And most scary, these people and all others who are afraid of taking chances have kept us from learning from all the cancelled missions and missions that will never be in the future because it's always "better safe than sorry" to them.

    • by madaxe42 ( 690151 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:31PM (#11362719) Homepage
      How dare you smite down our righteous cause? We are about to start a campaign to have the sun shutdown, due to HARMFUL rays which it sends out into space and earth, and to have DI-HYDROGEN-MONOXIDE BANNED. Also, we feel that it would be a prudent move to restrict movement of butterflies in Papua New Guinea, as they might cause hurricanes.

      Where's my plastic bubble?
    • by NaugaHunter ( 639364 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:44PM (#11362908)
      Try again. There are two reasons space exploration stagnated: war and money. We had great plans [] once, but between tax cuts and lack of commercial reason to explore there just isn't money to move quickly.
      • Oh, cry me a river. Except they are crocodile tears for Nasa's 2005 budget [] has actually increased by 6% - for a total of $16.2 BILLION dollars.

        I think anyone would agree that is a healthy chunk of money.

        How can you say space exploration has stagnated when we are about to try and go to Mars, we just launched a comet impacting satellite yesterday, and we have two frisky rovers rambling about on mars looking at shiny metal objects? How can you say space exploration has stagnated when we have two very rich
    • by maynard ( 3337 ) <> on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:44PM (#11362910) Journal
      I feel that it is because we have become completely and hopelessly terrified of danger.

      A couple of questions here. I'm sure you're aware that plutonium is highly radioactive and among the most lethal toxic substances known to man. Lets agree that it's bad stuff to let loose in the environment. So the question is one of risk mittigation and management. Are the scientific gains from launching RTG powered probes throughout the solar system worth the risk of plutonium contamination due to a launch disaster? Launch failures occurr pretty regularly, so we know that regular use of RTG technology in space probes will mean environmental contamination at some point. So how bad would one failure be? How about two? Five? Good questions worth debating. Or do you argue that only "stupid hippies" concern themselves with risk management?

      Please note that risking the lives of a space capsule full of men, who take on that risk willingly, is quite different from risking civilians without their knowledge or consent. --M
    • Get out and do something.

      Science and Exploration is something everyone can be involved in. Study the images publicly available, learn the equipment, apply for the jobs and volunteer to assist.

      The only way science will cease to exist is if you look to place blame on people not accepting risk or being hippies.

      The only person to blame for your poor views on science and exploration are yourself.

      Hippies or not, its dangerous to launch nukes into the atmosphere - you don't risk your own civilization to benef
      • you don't risk your own civilization to benefit science.

        You don't? As best I can tell, ceasing all science and exploration efforts doesn't just risk civilization, it dooms it to stagnation and collapse.

        So, you have to balance risks, be they personal, financial, or global, against the potential benefits. And in the case of Cassini, the risk was miniscule -- the rtg is designed to survive a launch vehicle failure or reentry without leaking; in fact, rtgs have crashed before (3 of them, I believe), with

  • by Bob_Robertson ( 454888 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:25PM (#11362613) Homepage
    The first entrepreneurs able to get into space efficiently have a large supply of trophies and memorabilia available for salvaging!

    I hope that the homesteaders on Earth's moon have the integrity to set up a barrier around the Apollo 11 landing site, that is one patch of tracks in the dust and debris that I would consider sacred.


  • Minor explanation (Score:5, Informative)

    by Cyclotron_Boy ( 708254 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:26PM (#11362637) Homepage
    They didn't stop recording data because Huygens went silent. Rather, Cassini had to turn to transmit its load of data. Cassini had to turn for a number of reasons ranging from the azimuth and elevation of the lander (now it is more than a probe...) with respect to the horizon, to the maximum data storage capability of Cassini itself. Not that the poster said anything wrong, it was just misleading. I believe Huygens was still transmitting at least carrier verified by Colorado (not sure which radiotelescope picked it up in the US) after Cassini was tasked to turn away. We just couldn't listen much longer, and Huygens' batteries weren't supposed to do more than 4.5 hours anyway (IIRC).
    • Some sort of power-saving mode would have been good, then, essentially conserving batteries until Cassini (or some future probe) is in a position to listen.
    • Re:Minor explanation (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The main reason that it stopped when it did was that cassini went below the horizon with respect to huygens, making it impossible to relay. It was always planned this way, since the only way to get a longer window would be for cassini to burn ALOT of fuel (probably more than it's carrying), and enter titan orbit. We may see a carrier signal from huygens well after the data relay window is over, but huygens doesn't have the transmitting power to get real data directly to earth without the relay.
    • Re:Minor explanation (Score:4, Informative)

      by Cyclotron_Boy ( 708254 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @01:07PM (#11363305) Homepage
      Correction: Since the internal temperature of the probe has been recorded as 25 degrees C (while outside the probe is much colder), the batteries could last as long as 7 hours. However, the transmitter onboard isn't strong enough to get data to Earth directly without a relay (like Mars Orbiter for the Mars Rovers).
  • I'm watching the NASA broadcast and just a few minutes ago everyone started cheering. I heard someone say they were receiving "Chain B" but not "Chain A" - these appear to be redundant instruments or something.

    Seems to be going quite well...
  • GO ESA! (Score:3, Informative)

    by segal_loves_pandas ( 849758 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:28PM (#11362675)
    This part is an European Space Agency project. You can find out more at: There is a link to the ESA/PPARC webcast there too. (PPARC is th British Research Council for Particle Physics and Astronomy.
  • by MoobY ( 207480 ) <anthony @ l i e k e n s .net> on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:29PM (#11362681) Homepage
    The images will be posted from the moment they are available at []
  • I wish it included a little rover like the ones on Mars, with an amphibious design (in case it landed in liquid something or other) and nuclear powered, since there isn't enough energy from the sun to operate at that distances. Oh well, hopefully I will live to see it.

    I am anxiously awaiting the data like a kid on Xmas morning. Titan is one of the most facinating places in the solar system. I can never forget the first time I laid eyes on it in my little 8" telescope. (Actually, a good pair of binocula
  • Pronounce Huygens (Score:5, Interesting)

    by awhoward ( 108214 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:30PM (#11362699) Homepage
    If you want to know how to correctly pronounce Huygens, go to this web site [].
  • check with #space on to know when this really is confirmed.

  • by KontinMonet ( 737319 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:31PM (#11362722) Homepage Journal
    ...this guy said []: "While NASA's Cassini works flawlessly, the ESA's Huygens probe will deliver superior science just like Beagle. It, too, will fail."

    You know who you are...
  • expensive data... (Score:2, Interesting)

    Wow, that was expensive for so little data. So now Huygens is just a very expensive popcicle?
  • by Momoru ( 837801 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:41PM (#11362866) Homepage Journal
    I always like the "artists rendering" pictures they show, where it's these great chasms and rocks and stuff...i wish they would really take some artistic liberties and show little aliens coming out to greet the probe
  • pins and needles (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dAzED1 ( 33635 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:46PM (#11362944) Journal
    Here's the log from the ESA's site []. Its in UTC - so we're talkin 23 minutes ago....such a wonderful thing to look forward to

    16:20 First data received from Huygens probe

    15:26 Confirmation received that Huygens probe data was successfully communicated to the Cassini spacecraft

    15:00 First Huygens probe data expected at around 16:00
    Probe life has now been over 5 hours

    14:10 Playback of probe data begins
    Ground control confirms that a signal is still being received on Earth from the Huygens probe, suggesting its batteries lasted well beyond the minimum design limit of 2 hours 15 minutes

    13:47 Cassini Orbiter has been turned in its orbit to poin the high gain antenna towards Earth

    12:30 Confirmation given of signal tracking for at least 2 hours

    11:24 Estimated time of surface impact and end of the descent phase

    11:23 Descent lamp activated to provide ground reflectivity measurements

    11:12 Cassini spacecraft undergoes closest approach to Titan passing at an altitude of 60 000 km at a speed of 5.4 km per second

    10:30 Green Bank 110 m telescope confirms a carrier signal from the Huygens probe.
    Signal indicates that the probe has survived the entry phase and that the instrument payload is active.

  • by Profane MuthaFucka ( 574406 ) <> on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:50PM (#11363001) Homepage Journal
    Huygens is not sitting on Titan silently. It's SCREAMING! Oh god it burns it burns! Muhahahaha.
  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @01:08PM (#11363337)
    Scientists are holding tight whether they good telemetry from the probe. The ESA designers forgot [] to correct for the doppler shift of the changing velocity between the Huygens probe and the Cassini mother ship. There is a chance that some of the signal could shift outside of the attenna frequency range and be lost. The landing was changed to slower trajectory orbit to hopefully compensate.
  • Sad State of Affairs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HungWeiLo ( 250320 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @02:29PM (#11364757)
    The online CNN poll, albeit very unscientific, shows that 33% of respondents think the Huygens Probe was a waste of money.

  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @02:57PM (#11365230) Journal
    I'd like to point out again that Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society is running a blog from Huygens mission control in Darmstadt, Germany. The blog is being updated as events happen.

    I particularly enjoyed this quote from the blog:

    He [John Zarnecki, the PI on the Surface Science Package] also said that it looks like the probe lasted about 147 minutes, which is 12 minutes longer than the predicted 135, but is "well within the error bars" of the predictions. However, he said this was still an early result--he didn't want to say for certain, because the members of a team had a bet on, and the number "looked suspiciously like the one I picked," Zarnecki said. ...

    But, when pushed, scientists can't help doing just a little bit of speculating. That's how they work. So here are a couple of little initial tidbits of speculative potential facts that they have mentioned.

    Number 1: Since the probe lasted for a really long time, it's "probably a good conclusion" that the probe landed on a solid, not a liquid surface, Lebreton said when he was pushed. Of course, that doesn't rule out John Zarnecki's "squelchy" surface prediction.

    Number 2: One thing that may have helped the probe last a long time was that it appeared to stay unexpectedly warm. At an elevation of only 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) above the surface, her interior was still at a balmy 25 C (77 F), despite the outside temperature being a frigid -180 C (-290 F). Lebreton wasn't ready to say what this might mean. It could be overperformance of the spacecraft, but it could also mean a wide variety of unexpected things about the atmosphere. For those of you who like instant results, I think you'll be disappointed on an answer to this question, because after all Huygens was a mission focused almost entirely on Titan's atmosphere, so it's going to take a very long time to synthesize scientific conclusions from all of this.
  • by BTWR ( 540147 ) <americangibor3@y ... inus threevowels> on Friday January 14, 2005 @04:22PM (#11366333) Homepage Journal
    here! []
  • Pathetic! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RayBender ( 525745 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @04:46PM (#11366694) Homepage
    Am I the only one who thinks ESA has completely dropped the ball here? They string us out all day, and in the end all they show is ONE stinking picture? They say they have 300+. Why not share even just a few with the public? I used to work at JPL, and let me tell you, when the landers hit the ground, we had a serious PR effort up and running right away. These guys are acting like they own the data and we'll have to wait for the research papers to be published before we get to see the images.

    I am so pissed off right now I can hardly speak!

    • Re:Pathetic! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by multiplexo ( 27356 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @08:20PM (#11369351) Journal
      There's an interesting article [] on the lameness of the ESA presentation at Space Daily [].

  • Thank Boris Smeds (Score:3, Informative)

    by csb ( 23046 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @07:41PM (#11368987)
    The Huygens probe was saved from probable failure, due to the inability of Cassini's receiver to compensate for the doppler effect:

    Titan Calling [] How a Swedish engineer saved a once-in-a-lifetime mission to Saturn's mysterious moon (by James Oberg)

    Without this guy, things would have gone a lot differently! I found this article in RISKS digest 23.65 (always worth a read).

I've got a bad feeling about this.