Spacecraft Landed in Mud on Saturn Moon
"There wasn't even a glitch at impact. That landing was a lot friendlier than we had anticipated," said Charles See, a scientist who has been studying the images.
In addition to the soft landing, material that appears to have accumulated on the camera lens in the final images suggests the weight of the 705-pound probe may have pulled it into the muddy surface. About 30 scientists are working to recreate the probe's descent to try to determine wind speeds and the chemical makeup of Titan's atmosphere. The Cassini mother ship carried Huygens into space and ejected it Dec. 25. The orbiter also played a key role in picking up the probe's transmission and relaying the telemetry to NASA, which passed the data on to ESA. Scientists said Tuesday they were surprised the probe rocked so much during its descent, tilting at least 10-20 degrees in the high-altitude haze.
"The ride was bumpier than we thought it would be," said Marty Tomasko, of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who heads the imaging team.
Huygens, named after Titan's discoverer, the 17th century Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, carried instruments to explore Titan's atmosphere. It will take years for scientists to fully process the information collected during the probe's 2 1/2-hour descent. Titan is the only moon in the solar system known to have a significant atmosphere. Rich in nitrogen and containing about 6 percent methane, its atmosphere is believed to be 1 1/2 times thicker than Earth's.