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January 14, 2005
How Often Do We Land on Another World?
I'd like to remind everyone that something very unusual is happening today: we appear to have successfully landed on Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Word came in a few minutes ago that the Huygens probe has sent at least two hours of observations back, which at least means that its parachutes opened.
Huygens carries all sorts of fine spectroscopic equipment to figure out what's going on under Titan's massive cloud deck, along with down- and sideways-pointing cameras and a spotlight. At this point, we don't know if it landed with a thunk, a splat, or a splash, but we'll be finding out later today when the information is sent back to Earth by the Cassini spacecraft (in orbit around Saturn).
Figuring out what we're seeing might take a bit longer. Titan is one of the most alien places you could find in our solar system. Barring some really excellent new technology, which I certainly hope for, this will be one of the few landings on another world that we'll all get a chance to see. It's a great day for the species.
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