This incredible image was captured ten years ago today, on January 14, 2005. It shows the murky surface of Saturn’s moon Titan as seen by the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe after it made its historic descent through the moon’s thick haze and clouds and landed in a frozen plain of crusty methane mud and icy pebbles. During the descent and after landing Huygens returned data for several hours before communication was lost. The groundbreaking images and information it sent back has proved invaluable to scientists studying this unique and mysterious moon, which is at the same time extremely alien and surprisingly Earth-like.
“It was eerie…we saw bright hills above a dark plain, a weird combination of light and dark. It was like seeing a landscape out of Dante.”
– Jonathan Lunine, Cassini-Huygens mission scientist
Learn more about the Huygens landing here and check out an incredible video below zooming in a billion times from Saturn orbit to Titan’s surface:
At first, the Huygens camera just saw fog over the distant surface. The fog started to clear only at about 60 kilometers (37 miles) altitude, making it possible to resolve surface features as large as 100 meters (328 feet). Only after landing could the probe’s camera resolve the little grains of sand. (NASA/JPL)
“Was I really living through all this? I distinctly recall the dreamy feeling of being in one universe one moment and in another universe the next. But it was no dream. We had, without doubt, journeyed to Titan, ten times farther from the Sun than the Earth, and touched it. The solar system suddenly seemed a very much smaller place.”
– Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging Team Leader and CICLOPS director
Learn more about some of the top ten discoveries of the Huygens probe here, and here’s an infographic of the numbers associated with Titan:
See more images and videos about Huygens’ historic landing at the CICLOPS site here.