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Mystery of Saturn Revealed After Seven Years

Posted January. 14, 2005 22:47,   


The space probe “Huygens,” manufactured by the European Space Agency (ESA), reached Titan, Saturn’s largest satellite, on 8:27 p.m. (Korean time), January 14.

It has been three weeks since it separated from the Saturn probe “Cassini,” its mother ship, and seven years and three months since it left Earth.

Titan has become the first satellite in the solar system, other than the moon, to be touched by human hands. Since it takes around one hour and seven minutes for data to be transferred from Saturn to Earth, the success or failure of the landing will be revealed as early as around 9:40 p.m.

The joint project of ESA and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Cassini and Huygens were launched from the Cape Canaveral base in Florida, U.S.A. on October 15, 1997. They entered Saturn’s orbit last July and on December 25, Huygens detached from Cassini and started its journey toward Titan.

Huygens, which had been approaching Titan at a speed of 20,000 km/h with the power off, went into operation again by a timed device on 1:44 p.m. January 14. It then slowed down by shooting a series of parachutes, and attempted to land on the surface of Titan at a speed of 20 km/h.

While passing the atmosphere, Huygens sent 750 pictures and various data to Cassini, which in turn sent them to Earth.

By exploring Titan, which is known to have an environment very similar to that of Earth 3.8 billion years ago, scientists expect to find clues about Earth’s appearance in its early days and the process of its evolution. Titan’s atmosphere, which is composed of a great amount of nitrogen and methane gas, seems to be similar to primitive Earth.

Sung-Won Joo swon@donga.com