Updated: Jun 25, 2022
Friday is a funeral on Titan — the adventures of Huygens are coming to an end.
For two hours and twenty-seven minutes, the Huygens space probe descends the clouds of Titan while sending back exhilarating data to the scientists. Mission control remains on high alert as they anticipate the next phase of its heroic assignment.
Will it touchdown on liquid or land?
Huygens' descent ends spectacularly in a pebbled region called Shangri-La, a moment famously coined as a "creme brûlée landing" by scientists who used this description to communicate the texture of the terrain to reporters back on Earth.
Shangri-La is the large, dark region at the centre of this image of Titan
Having landed, Huygens dutifully continues to transmit photos for two hours. Meanwhile, the world looks on in awe at this tiny probe's mind-blowing achievement while applauding the efforts of the nations involved to reach that milestone moment.
Luscious orchestration precedes the landing site moment to support the flourishing visual feast that we're experiencing. This rich musical texture will juxtaposes the intimate music that will follow - Huygen's last moments of its mission.
Huygens' epic landing and victories got me thinking. I wanted to take a few artistic liberties with this final scene as I felt Huygens might have been annoyed by the situation. I imagined Huygens aghast and saying to the scientists,
"You're seriously just going to leave me here to rust after all I've been through?"
Huygens returned this small image from the surface of Titan. This colored view was processed to add reflection spectra data, and gives a better indication of the actual color of the surface. Credit: NASA
Musical gestures from orchestra reflect this whimsical idea. Robotic tones produced by clarinet imitate Huygens annoyed "huffs and gruffs". But soon, heavenly strums from Celesta respond as if to say,
"Yes, Huygens, this is your burial site, but your legacy lives on."
The batteries eventually run out, leaving the probe enshrined in a world billions of miles away from the Earth it departed.
Huygens' adventure is a story of courage and victory, underscoring the spirit of eighteen countries that came together to achieve this epic undertaking.
EXPERIENCE THE MUSICAL STORY
III Movement ＴＩＴＡＮ "Batteries and Burial Site"
We end with empowering words from Dr Charles Elachi, who was the NASA/JPL director of another celebrated NASA mission, the Mars Curiosity Rover landing, where he comments about such ambitious missions;
"It's far better to dare mighty things, even though we might fail, than to stay in a twilight that knows neither victory or defeat, and the team bought us victory."
Amanda Lee Falkenberg and Dr. Charles Elachi 2018 Image Credit: Paul Myer Hopkins
To this day, Huygen’s remains the most distant spacecraft landing in history.