From one moon to another with Cassini/Huygens
15 October 1999It is exactly two years since ESA's Huygens Probe set off on its remarkable journey towards Saturn's mysterious moon Titan, aboard NASA's Cassini Orbiter. Since its launch on 15 October 1997, Cassini/Huygens has now travelled 1.863 billion kilometres, and is en route for the final gravity-assist manoeuvre around Jupiter in December 2000.
During the previous gravity-assist manoeuvre at Earth in August this year, scientists had the opportunity to to test some of the Orbiter instruments . About 1 hour and 20 minutes before its closest approach to Earth (3 hrs 28 minutes UTC on 18 August 1999) Cassini made its closest approach to our Moon, at a distance of about 377 000 km. For a period of about 15 minutes Cassini scientists were able to take images, in order to calibrate their instruments using this well-known target.
For their observations of a much more enigmatic moon, the teams involved in the Huygens mission have a bit longer to wait. Cassini/Huygens will finally reach Saturn in July 2004. On November of that year, ESA's Huygens Probe will separate from the Orbiter and, three weeks later, begin its parachute descent to the mysterious surface of Saturn's moon Titan.
Cassini/Huygens is a joint NASA/ESA mission, with NASA supplying the Cassini Orbiter and ESA contributing the Huygens probe.