Saturn's strangest sights, as captured by a doomed spacecraft

Sep 15, 2017, 00:36
Saturn's strangest sights, as captured by a doomed spacecraft

NASA launched Cassini toward Saturn in 1997. As it dives into Saturn, Cassini will be able to take measurements which could explain the phenomenon and in the process tell us more about how Saturn's rings formed and how they continue to interact with the planet.

NASA has begun to evaluate proposals for future missions to Saturn, as the Cassini spacecraft performs its final approach to the planet, SpaceNews reported Wednesday.

- The first spacecraft to orbit Saturn will never be available for a museum to preserve and display.

"Cassini-Huygens is a classic example of a "flagship" mission, accomplishing tremendous science in many disciplines over many years", said Alfred McEwen, a UA professor of planetary sciences, on Monday as he prepared to leave for Pasadena, California.

While orbiting Saturn almost 300 times, Cassini made major discoveries, such as the liquid methane seas of the planet's giant moon Titan and the sprawling subsurface ocean of Enceladus, a small Saturn moon.

"We had to make decisions on how to dispose of the spacecraft", said Jim Green, director of NASA's planetary science division.

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It found a global watery ocean beneath the icy surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus that scientists believe could harbour simple life.

"Who knows how many Ph.D. theses will be made into the next decade with Cassini's data", Spilker said. Built at Jet Propulsion Laboratory under the leadership of Robert Brown, operations for VIMS moved to the UA when Brown assumed a position as professor at LPL.

Within minutes of diving into the planet's upper layers, the instruments that revealed the great hydrocarbon seas on Titan and the plumes of water ice shooting off Enceladus will be torn apart, and then melted.

During its parachute descent the probe captured images of features that looked like shore lines and river systems on Earth. The final plunge will take place on the day side of Saturn.

The station is one of NASA's three tracking stations around the world that provide vital two-way radio contact with spacecraft like Cassini. This probe explored Saturn's moon Titan, which is larger than Mercury and is the only moon in the solar system with a dense atmosphere.

The discovery of ocean worlds on some of Saturn's moons could mean life. Enceladus plows along the orbit of the E Ring, Saturn's second-from-outermost ring, which reaches extremely far out into space, brushing up against the orbit of Titan.

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"We do see the water, but we see other constituents as well", he said.

What other discoveries were made by Cassini? Instead, Cassini will be configured to run only those instruments that can sense the planet's near-space environment, such as its magnetic field, or that can sample the chemical composition of its gases.

The Cassini spacecraft is making its final plunge into Saturn, taking its last pictures of the planet, its rings and its moons. Think of the life we'll find in there!

"The spacecraft will be transmitting data until the very end, and we'll be there when it stops", McEwen says. "We're a deep-vacuum kind of probe". The spacecraft showed the complexity of the planet's famous rings and documented a giant storm circling Saturn for the better part of a year.

Cassini has exceeded its intended mission by years but is running dangerously low on fuel. "It's going to do that for as long as it possibly can".

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