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 sent to the Saturn system. It has studied the planet and its many natural satellites since arriving there on June 30, 2004, also observing Jupiter and the heliosphere, and testing the theory of relativity. Launched in 1997 after nearly two decades of development, it includes a Saturn orbiter and an atmospheric probe/lander for the moon Titan called Huygens, which entered and landed on Titan in 2005. Cassini is the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter orbit, and its mission is ongoing as of 2014. The two-part spacecraft is 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 at approximately 02:00 UTC. It reached Saturn's moon Titan on January 14, 2005, when it entered Titan's atmosphere and descended to the surface. It successfully returned data to Earth, using the orbiter as a relay. This was the first landing ever accomplished in the outer Solar System.
Nearly a decade after entering orbit, on April 3, 2014, NASA reported that evidence for a large underground ocean of liquid water on Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, had been found by Cassini. According to scientists, evidence of an underground ocean suggests that Enceladus is one of the most likely places in the Solar System to "host microbial life". On June 30, 2014, NASA celebrated ten years of Cassini exploring Saturn and its moons, highlighting the discovery of water activity on Enceladus among other findings.