Surprises in the Saturn System: 10 Years of Cassini Discoveries and More Excitement to Come
Abstract:Cassini’s findings have revolutionized our understanding of Saturn, its complex rings, the amazing assortment of moons and the planet’s dynamic magnetic environment. The robotic spacecraft arrived in 2004 after a 7-year flight from Earth, dropped a parachuted probe named Huygens to study the atmosphere and surface of Saturn’s big moon Titan, and commenced making astonishing discoveries that continue today. Icy jets shoot from the tiny moon Enceladus; Titan’s hydrocarbon lakes and seas are dominated by liquid ethane and methane, and complex pre-biotic chemicals form in the atmosphere and rain to the surface; 3-dimensional structures rise above Saturn’s rings, and a giant Saturn storm circled the entire planet. Cassini’s findings at Saturn have also fundamentally altered many of our concepts of how planets form around stars.
The Solstice Mission continues to provide fundamental new science as Cassini observes seasonal and temporal changes, and addresses new questions that have arisen during the mission thus far. The mission’s grand finale occurs in 2017, with 22 inclined orbits between the innermost D ring and the upper portions of Saturn’s atmosphere, enabling unique gravity and magnetic field measurements of the planet, unprecedented determination of the ring mass, some of the highest resolution measurements of the rings and Saturn, and in situ observations in a completely new region around the planet. Highlights from 10 years of Cassini’s ambitious inquiry at Saturn will be presented along with the remarkable science that will be collected in the next three years.
Cassini-Huygens is a cooperative undertaking by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Italian space agency (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, ASI).
This work was carried out in part at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under contract with NASA. Copyright 2014 California Institute of Technology. Government sponsorship is acknowledged.