A look back at Cassini's incredible mission to Saturn before its final plunge into the planet

phys.org | 9/4/2017 | Staff
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The Cassini space probe mission is coming to an end this month when the probe makes its final destructive plunge in to Saturn. It's spent the past thirteen years studying the planet, its rings and moons in unprecedented detail.

Cassini wasn't the first NASA probe to study Saturn close-up. Pioneer 11 (1979), Voyager 1 (1980) and Voyager 2 (1981) had flown by Saturn earlier, not stopping but giving us the opportunity to see the planet as the amazing world that it is.

Planet - Time - Cassini

But to really understand a planet, you need to spend time with it and that's what Cassini has done.

Launched in 1997, it took almost seven years to reach Saturn, entering orbit on July 1, 2004. On Christmas Day that year, the Huygens probe was released towards Titan, the first probe ever to land on an object in the outer Solar System.

Cassini - Year - Mission - Saturn - Atmosphere

Cassini was on a four year mission to explore Saturn, its atmosphere, magnetosphere, rings and to study Saturn's moons, especially Titan the only moon in the Solar System to have a substantial atmosphere.

But four years has quickly grown into 13 impressive years, allowing Cassini to watch the slow progression of Saturn's changing seasons.

Spacecraft - Saturn - Hemisphere - Dark - Winter

When the spacecraft arrived, Saturn's northern hemisphere was in the dark of winter.

The northern part of Saturn was a mesmerising blue. Less sunlight, particularly the Sun's harsh ultraviolet rays, could reach the north leaving the atmosphere clear of smog and giving rise to the beautiful blue scattered light.

August - Cassini - Opportunity - Saturn - Equinox

In August 2009, Cassini had the opportunity to view Saturn at equinox, a special time when the Sun sits directly in line with the planet's rings. The only light hitting the rings is reflected light from Saturn itself.

The...
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