A probe has landed on a moon of Saturn called Titan. How do they *do* this stuff? It’s totally amazing. I’ve been watching the live NASA TV broadcast for a while now and saw the moment when apparently, the European Space Agency control center, received the first hard data from the Huygens space probe after its’ descent through the thich Titan atmosphere and landing on its’ surface.
I’m watching the broadcast right now and I’ll relay what they say has been discovered.
Some background: This probe was launched from the Cassini spacecraft back in December… Cassini arrived in the Saturn system specifically to study the dozens of satellites/moons orbiting Saturn.
Titan has been by far one of the most studied and talked about moons in the solar system because it contains an atmosphere and possibly a surfacce composition that could resemble Earths’ Billions of years ago when life first started to take hold.
Technically… Huygens doesn’t have a transmitter strong enough to deliver data directly to Earth… it must send its’ data first to Cassini which relays it. That said, Huygens can send a weak signal to Earth based stations… this way, Earth stations can confirm that Huygens is still “alive” and functioning.
From the Debreifing:
“A few nice things have happened”
“We are a scientific success”
“We are the first visitors of Titan… the data shall unveil the secrets of this new world”
They are still receiving heartbeat signals at Earth ground stations, long after Huygens slated 2 hour battery lifetime on the surface of Titan.
“Cassini has just started delivering the scientific data from Huygens”
The speaker is now congratulating and pointing out all the people who helped with Cassini and Huygens. This project was a combined effort between the ESA, NASA, Italian Space Agency, and many commercial industries.
It’s a wonderful example of multiple agencies working together to achieve a goal.
“The Data… will keep scientists busy for quite some time”
New Scientist Speaker:
“This is a historic event… I don’t think we will land another probe on Titan.. this data is for posterity…. It is for history…”
New NASA Speaker:
He’s very moved… nearly in tears… talking about the international partnerships over the past 25 years that made this day possible.
“We are receiving the data on two channels”
“We can say that all instruments are OK, nominal”
“The probe was still transmitting… the orbiter [Cassini] is not listening to the probe anymore.”
“All six experiments are getting good science”
“Everything coresponded to what we predicted”
“Internal temperature of the probe is 25C [WOW!… even though the outside is… you know… either incredibly hot (from the reentry into the atmosphere) or incredibly cold cuz it’s SPACE man! ;)]
“we should get some interesting results later tonight [that’d be in 3 or 4 hours]”
They’re in the QA period now… one question was whether the long life of the battery perhaps indicated that the probe did *not* land in an ocean or liquidy/oily surface.
Answer: Yes, probably.. though the guy didn’t want to say before the scientist… one of the big thoughts before this mission was that Titan had oceans.. of oil… flybys by Cassini before Huygens was released cast doubt on this longheld hope/belief. And now it looks like Huygens landed on solid ground. It doesn’t automatically negate any chance that oily seas exist on Titans… but it’s probably a bit of a disappoint to many of the scientist who were hoping for a “splashdown”.
Such is science… always learning new things and refining our ideas of the universe.
Listening to this QA session I am struck by how stupid many of the people asking questions seem to be… are they listening to the answers?? Funny. There has only really been two intelligent questions… one coming from the Discovery Channel Canada correspondent!! Hahahha… I’ll have to watch the daily science show tonight to hear his report.
Update 1: It looks like we’ll be getting our first announcements about the actual science received by the ESA at around 2:45PM EST… and on from there, so stay tuned!
UDPATE 2: The first pictures have arrived . They show a desolate landscapes with blocks of ICE(!) on the surface. COOL!