A key point in the mission occurred in 2005 when NASA's orbiter Cassini released Europe's Huygens probe into the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan. Huygens parachuted through the moon's thick atmosphere and landed. Photographs and other data returned by the probe gave scientists a far more detailed understanding of this world.
Photo: Artist's impression of the Cassini-Huygens probe (NASA)
An unmanned probe explores Saturn and its moons.
The probe finds clues about the age of Saturn's rings.
The mass spectrometer aboard the Cassini probe, launched in 1997, was used to analyse the age of Saturn's rings – with results no scientist could predict. The instrument produced images showing the dust content in the rings as a series of reds and blues. Dust content is believed to be a key clue to the rings' age.
A flyby of Phoebe yields clues about the moon's origins.
The Cassini-Huygens probe, launched in 1997, made a close flyby of Saturn's moon Phoebe and answered a fundamental question about this unusual moon's origins. It turned out that Phoebe offers scientists a chance to learn more about the distant, icy outer Solar System.
The Cassini-Huygens probe finds ice volcanoes and methane rain on Titan.
The Cassini and Huygens probes found evidence of river channels and cryovolcanoes that erupt super-cold water mixed with ammonia on Titan.
The Huygens probe lands on Saturn's moon.
After a long journey fraught with technical problems, the Huygens probe managed to land on Saturn's moon Titan on 15 January 2005. The probe returned images and other data that showed scientists a surface covered with what may be riverbeds.
Researchers describe the Cassini-Huygens probe's design.
Researchers describe the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft's instruments and mission. They talk about the technical challenges they faced during the Huygens probe landing in 2005.
Cassini–Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft sent to the planet Saturn. It is a Flagship-class NASA–ESA–ASI robotic spacecraft.Cassini is the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter orbit, and its mission is ongoing as of 2016[update]. It has studied the planet and its many natural satellites since arriving there in 2004.
Development started in the 1980s. Its design includes a Saturn orbiter (Cassini) and a lander (Huygens) for the moon Titan. The two spacecraft are named after astronomers Giovanni Cassini and Christiaan Huygens. The spacecraft launched on October 15, 1997 aboard a Titan IVB/Centaur and entered orbit around Saturn on July 1, 2004, after an interplanetary voyage that included flybys of Earth, Venus, and Jupiter. On December 25, 2004, Huygens separated from the orbiter and landed on Saturn's moon Titan on January 14, 2005. It successfully returned data to Earth, using the orbiter as a relay. This was the first landing ever accomplished in the outer Solar System.
Cassini continued to study the Saturn system in the following years, and continues to operate as of January 2017. However, due to the spacecraft's dwindling fuel resources for further orbital corrections, it is currently planned to be destroyed by diving into the planet's atmosphere in September 2017. This method of disposal was chosen to avoid potential biological contamination of Saturn's moons.
As of November 30, 2016, Cassini will enter the final phase of the project. Cassini will dive through the outer ring of Saturn 20 times, once every seven days. The spacecraft will enter areas that have been untouched up until this point, getting the closest look ever at Saturn's outer rings. The first pass of the rings took place on December 4, 2016.