CICLOPS: Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for OPerationS

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Captain's Log

January 14, 2015

We have reached another milepost in our travels around Saturn and a moment to commemorate and reflect on the astonishing events that unfolded ten years ago today: the landing of the Huygens probe on the equatorial plains of Saturn's largest, haze-enshrouded moon, Titan.

The anticipation of the arrival of Huygens at Titan was tremendous. Even six months after insertion into Saturn orbit, we still had only vague impressions of what the surface might be like, and the liquid hydrocarbons we were confident had to be there were not evident. My own words, recorded in a Captain's Log on this website on January 11, 2005, bespoke the suspense:

"We are about to enter a cold and misty wilderness, never before touched by anything human. This will be a tale to tell, of exploration, discovery and intrigue, not unlike those told by Jules Verne a century and a half ago. Only this time, it will be real.

We are capable of extraordinary achievements, and this will surely be one of them.

Ladies and gentlemen ... prepare to make contact."

And I will never forget the night that we did. Stationed at the European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany, along with many others, I was there to witness for myself the early reports of Huygens' landfall. We had safely guided our craft through the murk and onto the surface, and it was joyous.

The images taken by the falling probe and released to the public that night were everything our images from orbit were not: unfiltered, exquisitely detailed views of the moon's surface and unambiguous in their account.
They told of a bright region, bounded by what looked for all the world like a shoreline, and etched by a dendritic drainage system that could only have been made by a liquid draining through narrow channels, across that shoreline, and onto the dark, formless plain next door. It was circumstantial but incontrovertible evidence for the liquid hydrocarbons that we had strained from orbit to find and thrilling beyond measure. It was soon to be followed, after landing, by another unforgettable sight, under a cloudy sky and across a cobble-strewn ground to the moon's horizon in the distance.

Was I really living through all this? I distinctly recall the dreamy feeling of being in one universe one moment and in another universe the next. But it was no dream. We had, without doubt, journeyed to Titan, ten times farther from the Sun than the Earth, and touched it. The solar system suddenly seemed a very much smaller place.

There will be more of Titan in the upcoming three remaining years of Cassini's travels. But on this day as we commemorate that magic moment when we landed on a moon of Saturn, we remember also the many wondrous things we have found there in the succeeding ten years, and thank the great singularity in the sky that we lived to see it all happen.

Carolyn Porco
Cassini Imaging Team Leader
Director, CICLOPS
Boulder, CO


More Captain's Logs

Alliance Member Comments
jsc248 (Mar 15, 2015 at 8:58 AM):
Hi Carolyn,
It is good to know that you will be taking posts at the two institutions. I am sure you will bring that knowledge to the imaging team and hopefully to us too. I look forward with interest to your posts over the coming years!!
John.
Lee (Mar 14, 2015 at 10:30 PM):
Good evening,

Congratulations Dr. Porco on your appointments to the University of California as a Distinguished Scholar, and as a Fellow to the California Academy of Sciences.

Best of all, you'll be continuing to lead us here.

Thank you,
Lee in St. Paul
Robert (Feb 1, 2015 at 10:05 AM):
Titan became a real place for me 2005. It was amazing to see images of a world like our own through diffused atmospheric sunlight. A place with a horizon. A place with mountains grooved apparently by erosion. A place with land and lakes and shorelines and scattered rocks. Sure, it is too cold to live there, but it is still a fluid place. Liquid chemicals still float in the atmosphere and on the surface. They still interact with the scant sunlight from our Sun.

Learning about Titan is learning about the Earth. It is similar to how scientists have learned about our own Sun by learning about other stars. How they have been made and how they develop. What is the same? What is different? What makes one world, or one star, unique when there are apparently similar chemical and physical properties that they share? That is what scientists have been finding out. They continue to do so because there is much more to find out.

There are two excellent books that describe what was known about Titan, how the Huygens Probe was developed, and what was initially learned from the probe's science experiments. Both were written by Ralph Lorenz and Jacqueline Mitton. Lorenz is a planetary scientist who worked on the Surface Science Package of the Huygens Probe.

The first book "Lifting Titan's Veil" was published in 2002 (before Cassini-Huygens reached Saturn) and provides a historical as well as scientific description of what was learned about Titan up to that time. The second book "Titan Unveiled" was published in 2008 and provides a backstory of the development of the Huygens Probe as well as the initial scientific discoveries that were made on Titan.

Both books are engaging reads. Both the science and the technology are presented in detail but in a manner that is understandable to a wide audience.

Although Titan was discovered 460 years ago by Christiaan Huygens (on 25 March to be precise) scientists have obviously learned vastly more about it in just the past 10 years. And it's not just because they have more data, but it is why that data was chosen to be collected. It is those why-questions that make science interesting, inspire people to continue to explore, and allow humanity to progress.
NeKto (Jan 28, 2015 at 10:50 AM):
i have hesitated and gone back and forth with myself about responding to bwleung because it is so far off topic. i am very glad when anyone cares enough to want to respond to my situation, but inappropriate responses can do me more harm than good. perhaps bwleung didn't notice when i said "i am physically unable to sustain gainful employment"
being offered a job i can't do is no help.
what would help is competent, thorough primary medical care services. a thing i have never had in my adult life, and is apparently becoming extinct in the US.
or a shelter where the air quality is actually good enough i don't end up hemorrhaging.
on a happier note, one of the other things i do for stress relief is write science fiction. i am closing in on the end of a novel i titled "Ringshine" several of the moons of Saturn we have become familiar with through Ciclops, as well as the ring system, play important rolls in the climax of the novel. i'll let you know when it's finished. if anyone here want to read it we'll figure out a way to get it to you.
bwleung (Jan 14, 2015 at 5:45 PM):
Does Cassini Imaging team or CICLOPS community know anyone who can help,refer or assist NeKto with a job, which is hope?

Nekto survived over 10 years being homeless by going to the library "enjoying the breathtaking and at at times startling images Cassini and Huygens cameras have brought us.
i would not have survived without them."

We all enjoy these breathaking and startling images too these past 10 years but lucky enough to not need them as "a refuge and a stress relief", as we manage to have a job these last 10 years. Really hope humanity can come in and make a difference.

Kind regards,
Bill
NeKto (Jan 14, 2015 at 4:10 PM):
ten years ago today, i had been homeless for about half a year. i never had the opportunity to see the live coverage. i got to the library and found the images on the web.
in a world where too many believe they can assault and attack me solely because i am physically unable to sustain gainful employment, i am glad to have had the ten years of images and science here. it has been a refuge and a stress relief.
i am still homeless. have no hope of ever being anything else, and still enjoy the breathtaking and at at times startling images Cassini and Huygens cameras have brought us.
i would not have survived without them.
NeKto (Jan 14, 2015 at 4:09 PM):
ten years ago today, i had been homeless for about half a year. i never had the opportunity to see the live coverage. i got to the library and found the images on the web.
in a world where too many believe they can assault and attack me solely because i am physically unable to sustain gainful employment, i am glad to have had the ten years of images and science here. it has been a refuge and a stress relief.
i am still homeless. have no hope of ever being anything else, and still enjoy the breathtaking and at at times startling images Cassini and Huygens cameras have brought us.
i would not have survived without them.
Astrodad (Jan 14, 2015 at 3:56 PM):
Carolyn, thanks for reminding us of that wonderful time. I did an outreach event at the Dallas Science Place the night of SOI with a live feed for the board members. Wonderful! Later, your "force of nature" passion during the Huygens event far outshadowed the unfortunate analogy by John Zarnecki's team that we just landed in Crème Brulee. Good thing ESA had you around to make it real as many viewers probably lacked sufficient context to square Huygens, Titan and Crème Brulee.
bwleung (Jan 14, 2015 at 3:43 PM):
Thank you so much, Captain Carolyn. I remember distinctly Australian Boardcasting Corporation (ABC)'s science show Catalyst ran a special episode 10 years ago of the Huygens probe landing on Titan. The ABC reporter featured your very emotional and moving response that night of the Titan landing at European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany, ie, humanity has landed on Titan! It was a moment I will never forget, your raw emotions, displaying you being a truly great scientist. Your quest for the advancement of science to explore and understand and to guide and share with us the general public, for the betterment and benefit of all of us. Many thanks again for that unforgettable moment 10 years ago, Carolyn and what you and your team gave us all these years with Cassini of the Saturnian system and her wonders.
J Richard Jacobs (Jan 14, 2015 at 1:15 PM):
Just an added note: Thank you so much, Caroline.
J Richard Jacobs (Jan 14, 2015 at 1:13 PM):
As a displaced Martian longing to go home, I have never been more proud of my species. We have accomplished much, but there is so much more to be done. The images we have are emotionally moving, astounding, and wonderful. Now, let's take our rock hammers in hand and go do some real hands-on science. And someone, please take me home.
PiperPilot (Jan 14, 2015 at 11:08 AM):
Like our Captain, I too have been in awe over the images...with more to come. I wish we could bring Verne and a few thousand others back for a day to enjoy these wonders with us.

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