Secrets of a Cloudy Moon . . .
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THE YEAR 2005 will be remembered in the history of space exploration for the first landing of a probe on a surface in the outer solar system - on 14 January, the Huygens probe landed on the surface of the mysterious moon Titan. The landing of Huygens on Titan was a remarkable achievement. For comparison, let’s consider landing on Mars, whose distance from Earth is only 55m to 401m km, a planet explored by numerous spacecraft, starting with Mariner 4 in 1965. We successfully landed two Viking probes on Mars in the 1970s, followed by Pathfinder, Spirit, and Opportunity. We have studied Mars with numerous orbiters and fly-bys since Mariner 4, yet we still consider a successful landing on the Red Planet to be no small feat. Now consider Titan, about 1,300m km away from the Earth. The Huygens probe was built before Titan’s surface had ever been mapped, before any spacecraft had ever orbited this planet-sized moon to make measurements considered necessary for safe descent and landing.
KeywordsSolar System Space Exploration Aerospace Technology Small Feat Remarkable Achievement
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