In January, 2005, ESA’s Huygens probe bounced, slid and wobbled its way to rest for 10 seconds after touching down on Saturn’s moon, Titan. As you can imagine, that tells scientists quite a bit about the nature of that moon’s surface.

They reconstructed the chain of events by analyzing data from a variety of instruments that were active during the impact, in particular changes in the acceleration experienced by the probe. The instrument data were compared with results from computer simulations and a drop test using a model of Huygens designed to replicate the landing and the analysis revealed that, on first contact with Titan’s surface, Huygens dug a hole 12 cm deep before bouncing out onto a flat surface.


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