Cassini–Huygens

The first Cassini to explore Saturn was a person

Saturn
TWO CASSINIS The Cassini spacecraft has become famous for its stunning views of Saturn, including this image of the unlit side of the rings taken in 2012. But what do we know about the man Cassini was named for?

As the Cassini spacecraft plunges toward its death on Saturn, the world’s knowledge of the famous ringed planet continues to accumulate. Thanks to years of observations by the versatile probe, astronomers now know Saturn as intimately as macaroni knows cheese. But still hardly anyone outside the world of astronomy knows anything about Cassini — and I don’t mean the spacecraft, but the guy it was named for.

Gian Domenico Cassini was an Italian astronomer, born in Perinaldo in 1625, around the time that Galileo was battling the church over Copernicus’ revelation that the Earth orbits the sun. Cassini was attracted to poetry but was also good at math. He got his start in science via astrology, which back then was not considered quite as completely idiotic as it is today. In fact, astronomy itself was often supported by wealthy people in order to get better astrological forecasts. One such wealthy Italian, an amateur astronomer, was impressed with a pamphlet on astrology that Cassini had written; it earned him an invitation to work at the amateur’s observatory, near Bologna.

From the leading scientists at Bologna, Cassini learned the importance of using high-quality instruments to make the most precise measurements possible. His talents were soon recognized; by 1650 Cassini’s accomplishments and reputation earned him the chair in astronomy at the university in Bologna. He continued his research during the 1650s, taking a particular interest in comets.

Gian Domenico Cassini was an Italian astronomer who studied comets, the sun and solar eclipses. After mastering the moons of Jupiter, he turned to Saturn.

Cassini was an old-school conservative kind of scientist, not even inclined to take Galileo’s side on the Earth-orbiting-the-sun issue. Cassini preferred Tycho Brahe’s position that the other planets orbited the sun, but the sun then orbited the Earth. (Later Cassini accepted the Copernican sun-centered solar system, but only half-heartedly.) Cassini also was no fan of Newton’s law of gravity.

Cassini’s work as an eminent Italian scientist was not limited to astronomy. Called on to referee a…

NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Makes History As It Prepares For The End [Infographic]

The Brooklyn Startup Bringing Eyewear Manufacturing Back To America

On April 26th, 2017, over 700 million miles away, a small spacecraft made history by plunging between Saturn and its rings. After 2 decades in space and 13 years in orbit around Saturn, this craft has been able to take the most detailed pictures of Saturn in the history of mankind. The craft’s name is Cassini and its time is almost up.

Cassini was launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004. There it began its mission by photographing Titan. It launched the Huygens Probe down to the surface of…

Cassini’s ring dive offers first close-up of Saturn’s cloud tops

Saturn's atmosphere
FIRST LOOK NASA’s Cassini spacecraft snapped these closest-ever views of Saturn’s atmosphere on April 26. The images show filamentary and cumulus clouds, along with a good view of the planet’s giant hurricane (middle).

Cassini has beamed back stunning images from the spacecraft’s daring dive between Saturn and its rings.

The first closeup pictures of the planet’s atmosphere reveal peculiar threadlike clouds and puffy cumulus ones, plus the giant hurricane first spotted on Saturn in 2008 (SN: 11/8/08, p. 9). Released April 27, the images of Saturn’s cloud tops are a “big step forward” for understanding the planet’s atmosphere, says Cassini imaging team member Andy Ingersoll, an atmospheric scientist at Caltech.

“I was pretty struck by…

Seeing Earth From Between Saturn’s Rings, Nearly a Billion Miles Away

Earth and the moon (on the left) from between Saturn's rings.
Earth and the moon (on the left) from between Saturn’s rings.

The Cassini Orbiter is about 5,000 pounds (minus its fuel, which is all gone, and the Huygens probe it dropped off on Titan in 2004) of science that’s been orbiting Saturn for nearly 13 years. It is, by any objective take, a vanishingly small speck in the vastness of space, and one of the subtle feats of its 12 sensors—including an ultraviolet imaging spectrograph, plasma spectrometer, and cosmic dust analyzer—is reminding…

In ‘grand finale,’ Cassini spacecraft sets off on collision course with Saturn

Cassini and Saturn
The Cassini spacecraft will explore the uncharted territory between Saturn and its rings (shown in this artist’s illustration) before plunging into the planet’s atmosphere in September.

DEEP DIVE

Cassini is bravely going where no spacecraft has gone before — between Saturn and its rings.

The probe, which launched in 1997 and has orbited Saturn since 2004, starts this daring expedition April 22. It will fly through the 2,400-kilometer-wide gap between Saturn and its rings 22 times before plunging into the planet’s atmosphere and burning up on Sept. 15.

Mission scientists designed this dramatic…

Bubbles may put mysterious fizz in Titan’s polar sea

Titan magic island
SHAPESHIFTER Nitrogen bubbles may be the source of an on-again, off-again bright spot, or “magic island,” on Saturn’s moon Titan. Cassini spacecraft images of the island, which sits in a hydrocarbon sea called Ligeia Mare, revealed the feature’s fickle nature.

Saturn’s main moon, Titan, has a “magic island,” which might be made of streams of nitrogen bubbles, scientists report April 18 in Nature Astronomy.

Images from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft show that the island, which appears as a bright spot,…

Food for microbes found on Enceladus

Enceladus’ plume
FINDING FOOD A deep dive into Enceladus’ plume, shown here in an artist’s illustration, reveals that the moon harbors molecular hydrogen. On Earth, the gas serves as a food source for some microbes, suggesting life could exist on Enceladus, too.

Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus packs snacks suitable for microbial life.

Data from the Cassini spacecraft show that the vaporous plume shooting out of the moon’s southern pole contains molecular hydrogen. It is probably generated when water in the moon’s subterranean ocean reacts with rock in its core, researchers report in the April 14 Science. Such reactions at hydrothermal vents and in other extreme environments on Earth produce high abundances of hydrogen, which some microbes use for food. There’s enough hydrogen on Enceladus to sustain microbial life, the team suggests.

“We are not saying Enceladus has life, but the discovery does move the moon higher on the list of potentially habitable places in the solar system,” says study coauthor J. Hunter Waite of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

Enceladus became a good target for finding life beyond Earth when researchers found a global ocean under the moon’s icy exterior and hints of hydrothermal activity (SN: 10/17/15, p. 8; SN: 4/18/15, p. 10)….

In new Cassini portraits, Saturn’s moon Pan looks like pasta

Pan in Cassini image
This week, Cassini captured the closest images ever taken of Pan, a small moon that orbits amid Saturn’s rings.

Saturn serves up the closest thing to space pasta, the latest round of images from NASA’s Cassini probe, released March 9, show.

On March 7, the spacecraft snapped a series of portraits of Pan, Saturn’s small moon that orbits within a 325-kilometer gap in one of the planet’s rings. Taken at a distance of 24,572 kilometers from the moon, these are the closest images of Pan to date.

The close-ups could help refine astronomers’ understanding of the mini moon’s geology and…