Review of the year: Deep-space explorers make contact

Titan is the largest of Saturn's many moons, and the year began as it was visited by a spacecraft from Earth that landed a small probe on its frozen surface. The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft took seven years to travel the two billion miles to its final destination.

Last Christmas, the Huygens probe detached from the Cassini mothership and began its perilous final approach. In mid-January, its parachutes opened and Huygens floated down through Titan's atmosphere - it is the only moon known to have one - to touch down safely in a weird landscape etched by rivers of flowing methane.

"We are the first visitors of Titan. We shall unveil the secrets of this new world," said Professor Jean-Jacques Dourdain, director general of the European Space Agency.

Huygens was the brainchild of Professor John Zarnecki of the Open University, who admitted to feeling highly emotional when the box of scientific instruments arrived safely. "This is a tantalising glimpse of the processes at work on Titan," Professor Zarnecki said as data and images streamed back. "It shows how the weather systems operate, with methane-forming clouds and rain, producing the drainage channels, river beds and other features that we see in the images."

Six months later, the United States engineered an explosive encounter with the comet Tempel-1. Scientists fired a missile into the comet in an effort to examine the insides of these mysterious travellers. On 4 July, at 100 times the speed of a bullet, the missile slammed into Tempel-1, releasing the ingredients of the comet's primordial "soup". Nasa's Spitzer space telescope watched from afar, using its infra-red spectrometer to analyse the cloud of material ejected.

" We are assembling a list of comet ingredients that will be used by other scientists for years to come," said Carey Lisse of John Hopkins University. To their surprise, scientists found that comets contain a wide range of compounds, including aromatic hydrocarbons - organic substances found in the black soot on barbecues and car exhausts.

"Now we can stop guessing at what is inside comets," said Mike A'Hearn of the University of Maryland, the principal investigator for the Deep Impact mission. "The information is invaluable for piecing together how our own planets may have formed."

The Japanese weren't so lucky. Their Hayabusa probe was supposed to touch down on the Itokawa asteroid, pick up a sample and bring it back to Earth. The Japanese space agency announced on 26 November that its probe had touched down briefly, fired a projectile, collected the dust kicked up, and then lifted off again to transmit data.

However, it appears that the probe may not have collected any samples, and the space agency has said that it won't know for certain until it returns to Earth in June 2007.

Such are the risks of space exploration. Ask the scientists behind Cryosat, a satellite designed to monitor the Earth's polar ice. The £90m satellite was lost when its Russian rockets failed to lift it into the right orbit.

At least Europe's Venus Express mission launched safely in October. The spacecraft will study the runaway super-hot greenhouse effect on Earth's "evil twin" planet - perhaps helping scientists to understand what might happen here on Earth.

Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreEXCLUSIVE The Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
News
news
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
sport
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor