The Cassini spacecraft snapped this image of the European Space Agency's Huygens probe about 12 hours after its release from the orbiter. The probe successfully detached from Cassini on Dec. 24, 2004, and is on course for its January 14 encounter with Titan.
The Huygens probe will remain dormant until the onboard timer wakes it up just before the probe reaches Titan's upper atmosphere on Jan. 14, 2005. Then it will begin a dramatic plunge through Titan's murky atmosphere, tasting its chemical makeup and composition as it descends to touch down on its surface. The data gathered during this 2-1/2 hour descent will be transmitted from the probe to the Cassini orbiter. Afterward, Cassini will point its antenna to Earth and relay the data through NASA's Deep Space Network to JPL and on to the European Space Agency's Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany, which serves as the operations center for the Huygens probe mission. From this control center, ESA engineers will be tracking the probe and scientists will be standing by to process the data from the probe's six instruments.
This image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide angle camera at a distance of 18 kilometers (11 miles) from the probe on Dec. 25, 2004. The image has been magnified and contrast enhanced to aid visibility.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL.
For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://www.nasa.gov/cassini.