An illustration of the descent
While the Cassini probe has been taking the gorgeous pictures of Saturn we know and love, its little buddy and traveling companion, the Huygens lander, has been on the surface of the moon Titan. A just-published reconstruction of what happened when Huygens hit Titan’s surface eight years ago gives insight into what the ground on the methane-soaked body is like: something like damp sand, or perhaps crusty snow.
According the scenario constructed from its sensor data and on-Earth experiments, when the lander plunked gently down on the moon’s surface at a speed of about 10 mph, it sank into the ground about 5 inches before bouncing, sliding a little over a foot, and then rocking back and forth several times before coming to a halt. Earlier reconstructions seemed to indicate that the surface was soft. This version of events, though, suggests that the ground gives when hit with a fair amount of force, but can support passive weight, something like a hard crust over old snow or wetted sand.
We don’t have glorious videos as we do with Curiosity—just to remind you how exciting that descent and landing were—but with this reconstruction we can conjure up a reasonable picture of what happened when Huygens arrived on Titan.
Image courtesy of NASA/ESA/JPL