Field of Science

Landing on Titan

This strange movie is a visual aggregation of the data which the Huygens lander gathered when landing on Saturn's moon Titan on January 14th 2005. Huygens is part of the wildly succsesful Cassini-Huygens mission. Cassini is still taking fantastic pictures of Saturn and its moons while Huygens ended its journey on a methane riverbed and claims honors as the most distant touch-down ever made by a human built spacecraft. To the right here you can see the orange image that Huygens had as it came to rest stranded on the cold world; the rocks in the image are actually water ice. And further to the right is the grey image of a similary scaled image for comparison to the Moon's surface. I was struck by the flashing lights and strange sounds in the video. Every detail of the video expresses some aspect of the spacecrafts data aquisition. For a complete description of the data try this and here is an explanation for the sounds.
Sounds from a left speaker trace Huygens' motion, with tones changing with rotational speed and the tilt of the parachute. There are also clicks that clock the rotational counter, as well as sounds for the probe's heat shield hitting Titan's atmosphere, parachute deployments, heat shield release, jettison of the DISR cover and touch-down.

 Sounds from a right speaker go with DISR activity. There's a continuous tone that represents the strength of Huygens' signal to Cassini. Then there are 13 different chimes - one for each of DISR's 13 different science parts - that keep time with flashing-white-dot exposure counters.

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