Probe Set to Explore Saturn's Moon Titan

On Friday, the European space probe Huygens is set to parachute onto the surface of Saturn's moon Titan. If all goes well, Huygens will gather pictures, sounds and air samples as it falls through the moon's cloudy atmosphere — helping flesh out the story of our solar system.

The Huygens probe approaching Saturn's moon Titan.

The Huygens probe approaching Saturn's moon Titan. NASA/ESA hide caption

itoggle caption NASA/ESA

Named after Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, who discovered Titan 350 years ago, the probe was released from its larger companion craft, Cassini, in late December.

Touchdown on Titan

* Link goes directly to NASA's site. Quicktime required.

** Link goes directly to ESA's site. Click the "Ready" button to activate the timeline.

As it parachutes onto Titan, Huygens will use the moon's atmosphere as a natural braking system. During its descent, expected to last just over two hours, the probe will take pictures, analyze the air and even record the sounds of Titan.

Scientists hope the data will help them better understand the layout of our solar system: how it came to have rocky planets near the sun, gas giants farther out and icy moons, like Titan, swirling around those giant balls of gas.

About the Mission

The European Space Agency's Huygens probe hitched a ride to Saturn on NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which was launched on Oct. 15, 1997. Learn more:

Observing the chemical reactions within Titan's atmosphere — which contains nitrogen, methane and traces of ammonia, argon and ethane — may also shed light on how life evolved here on Earth. NPR's Richard Harris reports.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.