ESA probes make prestigious Science top ten

Huygens approaches Titan
4 January 2006

ESA’s planetary probes featured in the top 10 list of major scientific achievements of 2005, according to the prestigious US journal Science.

At the end of each year, Science publishes its annual top 10 list of major scientific breakthroughs. Space scientists and engineers around the world outdid themselves in 2005, with many spacecraft at or on the way to the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, an asteroid and a comet.

The high point of the year, however, came when the Huygens probe drifted down on to Saturn's haze-shrouded moon Titan. The Huygens mission gained the runner-up position in the list, highlighting the advances made by robotic explorers in space.

A fleet of other explorers was mentioned with Huygens this year. NASA's Voyager 1 approached the ‘edge’ of the Solar System and the Deep Impact spacecraft successfully collided with Comet Tempel 1.

The NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini spacecraft repeatedly swung by Saturn's rings, Titan and other moons. ESA's SMART-1 arrived at our Moon using its ion engine, and Europe’s first mission to Venus, Venus Express, was launched.

Huygens landed on Saturn's moon Titan on 14 January 2005, the furthest from Earth that a spacecraft had ever touched down. The information gathered as Huygens parachuted through the atmosphere and finally settled on the moon’s surface is shedding light on a world that may look a lot like Earth did 4600 million years ago.

According to Science, "It seems that planetary scientists, for the time being at least, are in their second golden age of Solar System exploration."

The number one spot in Science’s list was awarded jointly to several studies that looked at the intricate workings of evolution on Earth.

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