And where best to start than news released just today from a senior scientist working on the Cassini spacecraft, who thinks that Saturn's tiny moon Enceladus, not Titan, may be the best place to look for life elsewhere in the Solar System.
Destination Saturn: An Animated Tour
Cassini pictures spongy Hyperion
European Space Agency's Venus Express probe, launched in November from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, has gone into orbit around Venus, after a five-month journey. In addition to shedding further light on mechanisms of climate change on earth, a study of Venus, deemed Earth's 'evil twin', should also resolve various unknowns about earth's nearest neighbour. (Also read this interview with Prof. Fred Taylor of University of Oxford in UK about why studying Venus is important.) The last mission to Venus was NASA'S Magellan probe, launched in 1989. It completed more than 15,000 orbits between 1990 and 1994, and mapped almost all of Venus, revealing towering volcanoes, gigantic rifts and sharp-edged craters.
A photo of the south pole of Venus taken by the Venus Express spacecraft was released Thursday, April 13th, 2006 -- revealing a twist of cloud swirling around the far end of Earth's neighbor that closely resembles cloud formations around the more familiar north pole.
ESA's Mars Express probe, launched in June 2003, has also been sending back valuable information - including signs of a 'frozen sea', a 'Hourglass'-shaped crater, Libya Montes valley, a 'Happy face' crater, 'Kissing craters' which reveal glacial activity, an aurora* ,and many other beautiful images from the red planet.
* The Martian aurora is unique in the Solar System because it is linked to areas of magnetized crustal rock rather than to any planetary magnetic field. Mars has no intrinsic magnetic field, unlike Earth and the outer planets.
NASA recently successfully launched its New Horizons mission to Pluto in January 2006. The mission will take 10 years and cover about 3bn miles. It was launched just in time to use Jupiter's gravity to pick up speed in a slingshot maneuver.
Where to next, you ask? well... First planets have been viewed beyond the solar system ...