The NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini Huygens mission to Saturn, which has already delivered stunning images and data of the ringed planet following insertion into the Saturnian system on 1st July this year, is poised to enter a crucial stage in its voyage of scientific discovery. In the early hours of Christmas morning [25t December] the Huygens probe will separate from the orbiter, its home for the last seven years, and coast towards Titan where it will parachute down through the nitrogen-rich atmosphere of Saturns largest moon.
On the 14th of January 2005, Huygens will arrive on Titan's surface some 2.5 hours after entering the atmosphere - although the exact nature of its final resting place remains a mystery. Scientists speculate that Huygens may find lakes or even oceans of a mixture of liquid ethane, methane and nitrogen.
On Christmas Day 2004, Cassini is scheduled to release its passenger Huygens with a gentle push to start its unpowered coast to Titan.
The surface of Titan is still a mystery and scientists don't know what sort of surface Huygens will encounter. It could splash down on a sea of liquid methane, crash on frozen ice and rocks or gently squelch down in extraterrestrial slime.
Explore further: What lit up the universe?