Approaching Titan a Billion Times Closer

January 14, 2015
CreditNASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute Huygens images credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona Video credit: Erich Karkoschka, University of Arizona
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Drop into Titan with the Huygens probe in this video made using data from Cassini and ESA's historic mission.


We embark on a journey that will bring us a billion times closer to Titan's surface. Titan is Saturn's largest moon. Right in front of Saturn's disk in this image taken by the Cassini spacecraft. Saturn's atmosphere shows a banded structure and a number of storms.

We view the edge of Saturn's gigantic ring system. The rings cast major shadows onto Saturn's southern hemisphere. Titan is surrounded by a partially transparent brown haze. Features on Titan's surface appear. The dark regions on Titan's equator are mostly dune fields. The brighter regions are highlands a few hundred meters high. Images taken from the Huygens probe show Titan's surface in more detail.

The probe had spectrometers that measured small variations in the color of Titan's surface that are exaggerated here. Most of Titan's surface is brown.

North of the landing site, a pair of parallel dark dunes stretch east-west along the image. A large highland of triangular shape lies to the northwest. More and more dark canyons appear in this area.

A complicated network of channels where rivers of methane flowed at some time in the past.

To the east of the landing site is a system of bright ridges standing out above the dark, dry lakebed. The ridges have intricate structures that tell stories about their past. The Huygens probe descended toward one of these ridges.

As we approach the surface further, we can see this ridge in finer detail. Some regions were imaged with high resolution just before Huygens landed on Titan, especially the area to the west of the landing site. Most of Titan's surface is covered by dark organics that are produced in the atmosphere and slowly settle down. The bright spots may be exposed patches of water ice.

The white dot in the center of the image is the landed Huygens probe. While the probe rotated during the descent, its orientation after landing had the camera looking to the south. The camera saw a field of pebbles that were carried around by a river of methane in the past.

Some pebbles are larger than a human hand.

The Descent Imager Spectral Radiometer is the dark green instrument at the south side of the Huygens probe. Its lamp illuminated the surface, allowing spectral analysis. The lamp's spotlight stands out brightly, since days on Titan are even darker than cloudy days on Earth.

Little sunlight reaches Titan's surface due to its thick haze and large distance from the Sun.

The right side shows the green DISR instrument, with the gold-colored lamp and the three camera windows to its right. The cameras that provided the first close-up view of Titan's shrouded surface.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. ESA's Huygens probe was delivered to Saturn's moon Titan by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, landing on Titan on January 14, 2005.

The first minute of the video shows a zoom into images from Cassini's imaging cameras. The remainder of the movie depicts the view from Huygens during the last few hours of its historic journey.