Even a chimp can write code

Friday, January 14, 2005

Huygens lands on Titan!

The ESA probe Huygens, until now piggybacking on NASA's spacecraft Cassini, has landed on Saturn's moon Titan. Radio telescopes have tracked a carrier signal which "indicates that the back cover of Huygens must have been ejected, the main parachute must have been deployed and that the probe has begun to transmit, in other words, the probe is alive". Here's the possible timeline [via the Cassini-Huygens mission website]:

1:51 a.m. PST
Huygens Transmitters On

2:16 a.m. PST
Pilot Parachute Deploys

2:17 a.m. PST
Huygens Begins Transmitting to Cassini

2:32 a.m. PST
Drogue Parachute Deploys

4:34 a.m. PST
Surface Touchdown

6:44 a.m. PST
Cassini Stops Collecting Data

7:24 a.m. PST (About ten minutes ago)
First Chance for Data Arrival on Earth

I'm waiting to see what Huygens says when it calls home. In my opinion this is as big as our first landing on the moon. Never before has a prospect of life outside of Earth been so close to being deciphered. If we don't find life, at least we will get a glimpse of what the Earth herself looked like towards the beginning of evolution.

Update [Jan 20, 2005]: It is amazing how amateur enthusiasts have processed raw images and distributed them on the internet faster than space agencies have moved on this task. Here is a collection of processed images.

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