At last, on July 1, 2004, the Cassini spacecraft fired off its breaking rocket, glided into orbit around Saturn, and started taking pictures that left scientists in awe. It wasn't as if they hadn't been prepared for such wonders. The weeks leading up to Cassini's arrival at Saturn had served to intensify their already heated anticipation. It seemed as if each approach-picture taken was more enticing than the one preceding it.
Cassini's successful mission of exploration to the Saturn system is over, but planetary scientists are left with a cornucopia filled with important new information that Cassini/Huygens sent back to Earth before its mission ended. A collaborative NASA/European Space Agency/Italian Space Agency mission, the robotic spacecraft was made up of two components. The first was the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Huygens Probe, that had been named in honor of the Dutch mathematician and astronomer Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695), who discovered Titan. The Huygens Probe also closely observed Saturn's lovely system of gossamer rings. The second component, the NASA-designed Cassini Orbiter, was named after the Italian-French astronomer Giovanni Dominico Cassini (1625-1712), who discovered four of Saturn's other intriguing, numerous, and icy moons.
Saturn, the smaller of the two gas-giant planets inhabiting our Solar System, is an enchanting world. It is dwarfed only by Jupiter, the larger gas-giant planet, and it is probably the most beautiful planet in our Solar System. Magical and mysterious, Saturn's lovely rings and tumbling moonlets of ice, evoke wonder in the eye of the beholder.