Christmas Day marks a key stage in space exploration, with the latest efforts to uncover the mysteries of perhaps the most beautiful planet in the solar system. Seven years after the Saturn-bound Cassini spacecraft blasted off, it has released its powerful Huygens probe, built and managed by the European Space Agency. Initially remaining dormant, Huygens will coast for three weeks before activating as it approaches its target – Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
Then the probe will parachute through Titan’s atmosphere, picking up valuable data about a place in which it is believed conditions resemble those on Earth, over 4 billion years ago. The whole project to explore Saturn and its rings and moons was made possible by a collaboration between the European Space Agency and NASA. A nail-biting time now lies ahead for scientists on both sides of the Atlantic with Huygens not due to touch down on Titan until January 14.