Touchdown!

Friday, January 14th, 2005

Oh, hooray! The Huygens probe has landed on Titan! Exactly 350 years after Christiaan Huygens discovered Titan, the probe named after him has touched down on the surface of the mysterious moon and sent data back to the waiting Cassini spacecraft, which has sent it on to Earth.

No one has really known what to expect from Titan - open seas? Ice volcanoes? Maybe, just maybe…the building blocks of life? I desperately hope the astronomers get the data, the images - and even the sounds! - that they want. If the microphone on board Huygens worked, it could have actually recorded the sound of the descent through Titan’s atmosphere, and even the sound of thunder. I mean…wow. At the very least, Huygens should give us a slightly clearer idea of what’s been hiding under that murky atmosphere (probably not the lifeforms that Christiaan Huygens thought might live there, but something just as exciting: another wondrous, alien world).

Cassini was launched in 1997, and it’s utterly, utterly remarkable to me that 7 years and 800 million miles later, a little probe can be jettisoned from the spacecraft and sent in the direction of Titan, to land just when it’s supposed, just where it’s supposed, to do just what it’s supposed to do. That’s an incredible feat in and of itself. And when the first images from Huygens are released (which is supposed to happen in the next few hours), I suspect my awe and admiration for the scientists involved in this mission will become even greater - as will my desire to chuck in the translating work and get a job at mission control instead.

Yay, Huygens! Yay, space!

(Live updates on the mission can be found at www.space.com)

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