Space Photos of the Week: Saturn, You So Pretty

This image, taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, shows a landslide and rocky deposit in Simud Valles, a channel on Mars shaped by ancient floods.
1 / 7 In the latest from the Cassini mission, Saturn’s shadow on its rings shrinks as the planet tilts and orbits the sun, moving towards the planet’s solstice.NASA

The universe dished up a host of exciting new discoveries this week. From a shadow on Saturn’s rings to a murky baby…

The first Cassini to explore Saturn was a person

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]

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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…

The Largest Centaur in the Solar System Has Rings

An artist's impression Chariklo and its rings.
An artist’s impression Chariklo and its rings.

The most famous rings in the solar system encircle Saturn, Uranus, and Jupiter, but they’re not the only planetary jewelry. Chariklo may be small by comparison—in cross-section it’s about the size of Sri Lanka—but the minor planet, known as a “centaur,” has two little rings of its own. Those rings also just so happen to be the perfect size for learning more about how ring systems form. A team of scientists from Japan has developed the first complete simulation of a ring system, and their model shows Chariklo’s rings may be short-lived.

Chariklo orbits the sun between Saturn and Uranus, and just like those of its neighbors, its opaque rings are made up of tiny chunks of ice and rocky debris. Modeling the complex interactions between particles in the huge rings…

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.


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…

Saturn’s Moon Enceladus

Small Saturn moon has most conditions needed to sustain life, NASA says. You’re about to hear a lot more about Enceladus.
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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…