In 2005, the European Space Agency's Huygens probe—which had been sent into space with its mothership, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, to learn more about Saturn and its moons—became the first spacecraft to land on an object in the outer solar system. That object was Titan, a hazy, planet-like moon of Saturn. Now, 12 years after the historic voyage, Mashable reports that NASA has released a video of Huygens's descent.
Huygens took samples of Titan’s atmosphere and captured hundreds of photos of the moon. These images revealed a new, alien world with rugged mountains, dramatic gorges, and dark drainage channels that were suggestive of liquid methane rivers.
“The Huygens images were everything our images from orbit were not,” planetary scientist Carolyn Porco, who worked as the Cassini imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a NASA press release. “Instead of hazy, sinuous features that we could only guess were streams and drainage channels, here was incontrovertible evidence that at some point in Titan's history—perhaps even now—there were flowing liquid hydrocarbons on the surface. Huygens's images became a Rosetta Stone for helping us interpret our subsequent findings on Titan."
The Huygens probe only transmitted data during its descent; after it landed on Titan, it went silent. The Cassini spacecraft has continued to explore Titan from above, capturing images of sand dunes and lakes of liquid methane and ethane. Cassini is currently in its final year of exploration; its mission is slated to end in September 2017.
In the video below, you can relive the Huygens probe's historic descent, from atmospheric entry to touchdown.