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Take a Virtual Trip to Titan, 10 Years After Huygens Did It

Take a Virtual Fall to Titan’s Surface 3:00

Scientists are celebrating Wednesday's 10th anniversary of the Huygens probe's historic landing on Titan by recreating its descent to the Saturnian moon's surface in an eye-opening video.

The video begins with a wide-angle view of Saturn and Titan from the Cassini orbiter, which is still observing the ringed planet a decade later. Then it zooms in to views captured by the Huygens Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer, or DISR, as it plunged through the moon's smoggy atmosphere to its frozen surface of water ice pebbles and hydrocarbon rivers.

If the Cassini probe is about the size of a bus, the Huygens probe is roughly the size of a tire on that bus. The European Space Agency's lander was a piggyback payload that separated from the orbiter on Christmas Day, 2004, and made its descent three weeks later on Jan. 14, 2005.

Planetary scientist Carolyn Porco, head of the Cassini mission's imaging team, said in an email that the orbiter's entry into Saturnian orbit during the summer of 2004 was a memorable moment, as were the first flybys of the ringed planet's moons.

"But for me, the moment that moved me the most was the one that took place 10 years ago today ... the day humanity landed a device of our own making on a moon in the outer solar system," she wrote. "The landing of the Huygens probe on Titan was a time I will never forget."

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— Alan Boyle