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Huygens' successful mission to Titan

19 January 2005

Image of Saturn

After a seven year journey travelling two billion miles carried by the Cassini spacecraft, the Huygens probe has reached its destination - Titan, the largest moon of Saturn and the second largest moon in our solar system.

Images obtained so far show the possibility of rivers and seas of liquid ethane and methane on the surface of Titan, an environment that is too cold for liquid water. It is thought that the atmosphere of Titan is similar to that of Earth four billion years ago and should give us clues to the origins of life on Earth.

Surface of Titan from Huygens © European Space Agency

‘It is fascinating to see the first pictures of a different planetary surface’ says the Natural History Museum's Dr Monica Grady. ‘The Titan expedition is particularly exciting because of the insight it will give us to the pre-biotic chemistry of the Earth.’

The first close-up images of Saturn, its rings and moons, came from Voyager in 1980. The unmanned Huygens probe, 2.7 metres wide, separated from the Cassini spacecraft on Christmas Day 2004, finally arriving to begin its two hour descent into the atmosphere of Titan on 14 January. Huygens survived for 70 minutes on the surface of Titan, much longer than had been hoped, and sent back data about the atmosphere and surface, along with these amazing images. The results from Huygens will undoubtedly lead to exciting discoveries about the mysterious moon.

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