Saturn's Strangest Sights, As Captured By A Doomed Spacecraft

Gwen Vasquez
September 14, 2017

"Cassini has been in a long-term relationship with Titan, with a new rendezvous almost every month for more than a decade".

Cassini had its closest approach with Saturn's moon Titan on Monday, dubbed a "goodbye kiss" by the mission's engineers because it provides the gravity assist that sends it on its final encounter with Saturn. "We did it.' Cassini was so profoundly, scientifically successful", said Porco, a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley.

Cassini, the most distant planetary orbiter ever launched, is closing in on its doom. It astonished scientists by finding conditions potentially suitable for life beneath the surface of one of Saturn's icy moons, Enceladus. I want to be a NASA scientist when I grow up.

Cassini isn't as flashy or as well-known as Curiosity or the other Mars missions, but it was its own, singular thread in the fabric of space exploration.

CU Boulder Professor Larry Esposito has been eying the fabulous rings of Saturn for much of his career, beginning as a team scientist on NASA's Pioneer 11 mission when he discovered the planet's faint F ring in 1979.

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Cassini was launched in 2004, and set on the final chapter of its nearly two decade long journey in April this year. NASA later updated its post and confirmed that Cassini was back in contact with the mission's ground controllers. The unsafe substance was encased in super-dense iridium as a safeguard for Cassini's 1997 launch and has been used for electric power to run its instruments.

The European Space Agency's Huygens lander - which hitchhiked all the way to Saturn aboard Cassini - still rests on Titan. Esposito, who used observations from the Voyager mission to compare the rings of Saturn, Jupiter and Neptune, believes Saturn's rings may be as old as the solar system, which is believed to have formed some 4.6 billion years ago.

Cassini will transmit data up until its last moments.

"We are still making discoveries about the Saturn system studying the Cassini data, and we expect to be making them for some time", said Esposito of CU Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP).

When Cassini arrived, it witnessed a giant storm circling the planet for nine months.

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