Huygens Approaching Titan

So, if all goes well, by this time tomorrow we should be starting to know a whole lot more about the atmosphere and surface of Saturn’s smog-shrouded moon, Titan: Huygens at Titan’s doorstep.

I actually came down on the Luddite side on the question of Huygens’ parent Cassini probe’s 1999 flyby of Earth. I’m all for space exploration and science. But I resented the way some of the Cassini defenders deliberately obscured the nature of the risk associated with the flyby, focusing instead on the relative safety of the launch, as if that were really the issue. A launch disaster, you see, would have been unlikely to release plutonium into the atmosphere from Cassini’s radioactive-decay-powered batteries. But a mistaken trajectory during the near-Earth flyby would have been a very different story.

Anyway, the (admittedly low) possibility of a radiation release during the Cassini flyby didn’t come to pass, so we don’t have to second-guess the public relations effort that deflected public attention from the possibility. And now I’m just very excited about the chance that we’ll be getting a great big chunk of previously unknown data, all at once.

Good luck, little robot.

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