Top 6 Discoveries Of Cassini When Its 20-Year Mission Came To An End
“Being a scientist and staring immensity and eternity in the face every day is as grand and inspiring as it gets.” -Carolyn Porco
Launched back in October of 1997, Cassini will take its final plunge into the ringed world it’s been orbiting for over a decade on Friday, September 15th. Before it does, however, it’s worth a look back at the tremendous science that’s come about from the first dedicated mission to venture out to Saturn, including a series of surprises that we had no idea we’d find when we were planning and preparing this mission. A diagram of the Cassini spacecraft, including the various instruments and on-board devices and probes, as laid out one year prior to launch. Image credit: NASA / ESA / Italian Space Agency; JPL-Caltech.
Sure, our radioisotope-powered spacecraft was equipped with a lander to investigate the giant moon Titan, and many instruments to analyze the various molecules it would find on Saturn, in its rings, and in its many moons. But the polar hexagon and the central vortex, the largest storm ever seen in the Solar System’s history, a myriad of features in the rings (and their gaps), the cause of the two-toned nature of Iapetus and much, much more all came about not because we were seeking to solve these mysteries, but because we had built a spacecraft capable of looking for more than what we were anticipating. An image of an eruption on Enceladus’ surface (L) shown alongside a simulation of the curtain-like eruption from Earth-based scientists (R). Only through the incredible science of the Cassini mission were we able to understand what’s going on with this world. Image credit: NASA / Cassini-Huygens mission / Imaging Science Subsystem.