BBC TWO, Janaury 14th, 2005 11.30pm
Highlights and update on BBC TWO, January 15th 2005, 2:20pm
On January 14 2005, the Huygens space probe will complete its descent through the atmosphere of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. It’s the most distant object on which a spacecraft from Earth has attempted to land; and if all goes according to plan, the mission will send back high-resolution pictures of Titan’s surface, along with streams of data from six other instruments.
The first pictures will be seen at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, on the evening of January 14. Stardatewill be live from ESOC at 11.30pm to give viewers the first chance to see the images as they’re downloaded.
Chemically, Titan’s atmosphere is the closest to Earth’s early atmosphere of any planet that can be found in our Solar System and the data relayed during this live broadcast could hold the key to understanding how life came to exist on Earth.
For those involved in this joint NASA, European Space Agency and Italian Space Agency mission - such as The Open University’s Professor John Zarnecki - January 14 is the culmination of 16 years of dedication to the Titan cause.
Prof Zarnecki envisages three possible scenarios: a relatively hard landing on an icy-rocky surface; a squelch into a tar-like gunge; and - his favourite outcome - a splash-down in an oily sea.
“Huygens would then take the first measurements ever in extraterrestrial oceanography," he said. "We’ve done some calculations for what wind-driven waves might look like on Titan and they are actually quite scary. Under the same conditions, waves on Titan could be up to 10 times larger than on Earth," said Prof Zarnecki.
Stardate: Mission to Titan will include the story of the early days of the mission as the programme profiles Prof Zarnecki – one of the UK’s top space scientists and lead scientist of Huygens’ Surface Science Package – and reveals just what it takes to dedicate nearly two decades of your life to one job – or in this case one mission.
It will also profile Cassini-Huygens’ journey from Earth to Saturn, which began in October 1997 when the 5.6 tonne spacecraft Cassini was launched from Cape Canaveral. The craft has investigated Venus, Jupiter and interplanetary space during its voyage to Saturn.
The latest programme in this topical astronomy series will be presented by Adam Hart-Davis and Dr Lucie Green and will feature expert comment from the world’s most prominent space scientists.
Among the interviewees are The Open University’s Prof Barrie Jones, who will address the connection between Huygens and looking for life outside the Earth.
“In my mind the universe is teeming with life,” he comments during his interview.
To explain how the scientific instruments on board Huygens work, Dr Lucie Green travels to Brighton. Here, Lucie will explain the scientific principals behind the instruments, and investigate what they would have recorded if the probe had landed in Brighton, not Titan!
For the very latest on the mission, along with images (as they become available) keep an eye on the ESA Cassini-Huygens pages.
You might also like to take a look at NASA's site where images should also be available: NASA's Saturn images
In the programme, you'll hear some of the music that has been taken to Titan aboard Huygens. If you'd like to download the music for yourself, visit music2titan.