Cassini probe at Saturn... (warning -- large images!)

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Go for another two years

The US space agency (Nasa) has extended the international Cassini-Huygens mission by two years.

The unmanned Cassini-Huygens spacecraft entered orbit around Saturn in 2004 on a mission that was supposed to come to an end in July this year.

The two-year mission extension will encompass some 60 extra orbits of Saturn and more flybys of its moons.
These will include 26 flybys of Titan - its biggest moon - seven of Enceladus, and one each of Dione, Rhea and Helene

Elvis Telecom, Wednesday, 16 April 2008 17:06 (nine years ago) Permalink

three months pass...

Looking for life in Enceladus’ plume

Now in press at Astrobiology is a look at the possibilities of life on Enceladus that holds out hope for detecting biomarkers with data gathered during a Cassini flyby. That’s an exciting possibility, depending as it does not on an orbiter or lander mission from an indefinite future but on equipment we’ve currently got in Saturn space. And the Enceladus picture remains fascinating because of the possibility that some microbial systems on Earth that operate far beneath the surface may offer examples of how life could evolve on a cold and distant moon of Saturn.

We’ve already found a dozen icy particle jets coming out of Enceladus’ south polar regions, all pumping material into a plume that extends for thousands of kilometers. A 2005 Cassini flyby revealed, among other things, water vapor, methane and simple organic compounds, even as other Cassini instrumentation showed the moon’s south polar region to be anomalously warm. If there is liquid water under the south polar region, could life have evolved there? If so, the paper raises the possibility that methane may be a biomarker. For that matter, could life have come there from elsewhere? The paper argues both are possible:

Elvis Telecom, Wednesday, 16 July 2008 20:39 (eight years ago) Permalink


Elvis Telecom, Wednesday, 16 July 2008 21:48 (eight years ago) Permalink


Ned Raggett, Wednesday, 16 July 2008 21:50 (eight years ago) Permalink

two weeks pass...

Lakes on Titan!

Ned Raggett, Thursday, 31 July 2008 16:16 (eight years ago) Permalink

awesome we can go hydrocarbon-skiing.

Jarlrmai, Thursday, 31 July 2008 16:26 (eight years ago) Permalink

eight months pass...

That is so way cool. Thanks!

James Morrison, Tuesday, 14 April 2009 03:55 (eight years ago) Permalink

two months pass...

For any London ILXors or folks visiting, great looking exhibition of Cassini images at the Royal Observatory:

Visions of Saturn

Bill A, Wednesday, 24 June 2009 13:47 (seven years ago) Permalink

Stronger hints of an ocean inside Enceladus

PASADENA, Calif. -- For the first time, scientists working on NASA's Cassini mission have detected sodium salts in ice grains of Saturn's outermost ring. Detecting salty ice indicates that Saturn's moon Enceladus, which primarily replenishes the ring with material from discharging jets, could harbor a reservoir of liquid water -- perhaps an ocean -- beneath its surface.

Cassini discovered the water-ice jets in 2005 on Enceladus. These jets expel tiny ice grains and vapor, some of which escape the moon's gravity and form Saturn's outermost ring. Cassini's cosmic dust analyzer has examined the composition of those grains and found salt within them.

"We believe that the salty minerals deep inside Enceladus washed out from rock at the bottom of a liquid layer," said Frank Postberg, Cassini scientist for the cosmic dust analyzer at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany. Postberg is lead author of a study that appears in the June 25 issue of the journal Nature.

Scientists on Cassini's cosmic dust detector team conclude that liquid water must be present because it is the only way to dissolve the significant amounts of minerals that would account for the levels of salt detected. The process of sublimation, the mechanism by which vapor is released directly from solid ice in the crust, cannot account for the presence of salt.

Elvis Telecom, Wednesday, 24 June 2009 21:52 (seven years ago) Permalink

one month passes...

Plains of Titan to be Named for Dune novels

Elvis Telecom, Wednesday, 5 August 2009 06:46 (seven years ago) Permalink

The US Geological Survey Astrogeology Science Center announced the first plain or "planitia" given a name will be designated as Chusuk Planitia. Chusuk was a planet from the Dune series, known for its musical instruments.

weatheringdaleson, Wednesday, 5 August 2009 07:23 (seven years ago) Permalink


This image, taken as Saturn approaches its August 2009 equinox, shows a shadow being cast by a narrow, vertically extended feature in the F ring.

Imaging scientists are working to understand the origin of structures such as this one, but they think this image may show the shadow of an object on an inclined orbit which has punched through the F ring and dragged material along in its path.

Elvis Telecom, Monday, 10 August 2009 18:08 (seven years ago) Permalink

Must be escapees from the prison colony.

Nate Carson, Monday, 10 August 2009 20:57 (seven years ago) Permalink

two months pass...

Cassini made it's closest pass to Enceladus yet over the weekend and the pictures are knocking me out of my tree. Raw image download.

If you can only look at one, make it this one

Elvis Telecom, Tuesday, 3 November 2009 02:24 (seven years ago) Permalink

Elvis Telecom, Tuesday, 3 November 2009 02:24 (seven years ago) Permalink


the jun togawa of farting (╓abies), Tuesday, 3 November 2009 02:28 (seven years ago) Permalink

one month passes...

Ummm, WOW!

Reflection of Sunlight off Titan Lake
December 17, 2009 Full-Res: PIA12481

This image shows the first flash of sunlight reflected off a lake on Saturn’s moon Titan. The glint off a mirror-like surface is known as a specular reflection. This kind of glint was detected by the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on July 8, 2009. It confirmed the presence of liquid in the moon’s northern hemisphere, where lakes are more numerous and larger than those in the southern hemisphere. Scientists using VIMS had confirmed the presence of liquid in Ontario Lacus, the largest lake in the southern hemisphere, in 2008.

The northern hemisphere was shrouded in darkness for nearly 15 years, but the sun began to illuminate the area again as it approached its spring equinox in August 2009. VIMS was able to detect the glint as the viewing geometry changed. Titan’s hazy atmosphere also scatters and absorbs many wavelengths of light, including most of the visible light spectrum. But the VIMS instrument enabled scientists to look for the glint in infrared wavelengths that were able to penetrate through the moon’s atmosphere. This image was created using wavelengths of light in the 5 micron range.

By comparing the new image to radar and near-infrared light images acquired from 2006 to 2008, Cassini scientists were able to correlate the reflection to the southern shoreline of a Titan lake called Kraken Mare. The sprawling Kraken Mare covers about 400,000 square kilometers (150,000 square miles). The reflection appeared to come from a part of the lake around 71 degrees north latitude and 337 degrees west latitude.

Elvis Telecom, Thursday, 17 December 2009 21:39 (seven years ago) Permalink

Insane. (And great.)

Ned Raggett, Thursday, 17 December 2009 22:12 (seven years ago) Permalink

Wow--that is so amazing. Now we just need some methane-breathing Titan native wildlife to start flying around visibly in the atmosphere.

Attention please, a child has been lost in the tunnel of goats. (James Morrison), Thursday, 17 December 2009 22:31 (seven years ago) Permalink

I know this is stating the obvious, but the fact that this little probe is flying round out there, taking these amazing shots, and it's all being uploaded straight on the net for us to gawk at---there's not an aspect of this that doesn't blow my mind.

Attention please, a child has been lost in the tunnel of goats. (James Morrison), Thursday, 17 December 2009 22:57 (seven years ago) Permalink

Britain cut all its funding for this mission yesterday : (

caek, Thursday, 17 December 2009 23:22 (seven years ago) Permalink

Srsly, that kind of fucking short-sighted idiocy is the *true* Broken Britain that the tossers who make these decisions likely rail against.

Back to the positive - amazing new pictures, this thread continues to be wholeheartedly For The Ages.

Bill A, Thursday, 17 December 2009 23:33 (seven years ago) Permalink

Britain cut all its funding for this mission yesterday : (

Britain clobbered it's funding for all of astronomy and physics yesterday. is tracking the damage. (This is probably worth a different thread. Back to the amazing Saturn info)

Elvis Telecom, Friday, 18 December 2009 00:46 (seven years ago) Permalink

Just realized that I forgot to post this

December 15, 2009
Solving a Tonal Mystery in Orbit Around Saturn

Researchers have solved what may be the oldest mystery in planetary science: the two-tone surface of Saturn’s moon Iapetus.

The odd feature — the moon’s trailing side is about 10 times brighter than its leading side — has been a mystery since it was first observed by Giovanni Cassini in 1671. In two papers published online by Science, researchers have unraveled the mystery, using images and data from instruments aboard the spacecraft named for Cassini.

The studies confirm an earlier idea that dust, most likely from another of Saturn’s moons, falls on the leading side of Iapetus as it orbits the planet.

“It’s just like a motorcyclist, who only gets the flies on the leading side of the helmet rather than the trailing side,” said Tillmann Denk of the Free University of Berlin, an author with John R. Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute of one of the papers and lead author of the other.

But the pattern of the surface features — the dark area extends to the trailing side at the equator, for example — is not fully explained by the deposition dust. Rather, the researchers say, the reason has a lot to do with the moon’s rotation on its axis, which takes 80 earth days.

Such a slow rotation (“midday” lasts for a couple of weeks) allows the distant Sun to warm the dark dust-covered areas enough that water ice becomes vapor.

The vapor migrates elsewhere, freezing to ice again when it reaches colder areas. The areas where the ice was lost become darker, and those that gained ice become brighter.

Elvis Telecom, Friday, 18 December 2009 01:06 (seven years ago) Permalink

Just as FYI, put feed:// into your RSS feed reader for daily Saturn images and updates on what's going on.

Elvis Telecom, Friday, 18 December 2009 08:59 (seven years ago) Permalink

Being kind of amazed by these photos of the rings:

I mean, I've always grown up seeing paintings and raytracings and so on which look exactly like that, but this time you have to stop and go, actually, this is real, this is a photo.

brett favre vs bernard fevre, fite (a passing spacecadet), Friday, 18 December 2009 09:20 (seven years ago) Permalink

Titan's haze and clouds are well-known but there's fog now too

Astronomers say the presence of fog provides the first direct evidence for the exchange of material between the surface and the atmosphere, and thus of an active hydrological cycle, which previously had only been known to exist on Earth.

The discovery was made using data from the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) onboard the Cassini spacecraft, which has been observing Saturn's system for the past five years. The VIMS instrument provides "hyperspectral" imaging, covering a large swath of the visible and infrared spectrum.

Researchers investigated all Cassini data collected over the moon's south pole from October 2006 through March 2007, and filtered the data to separate out features occurring at different depths in the atmosphere, ranging from 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) to .25 kilometers (820 feet) above the surface. Using other filters, they homed in on "bright" features caused by the scattering of light off small particles—such as the methane droplets present in clouds.

In this way, they isolated clouds located about 750 meters (less than a half-mile) above the ground. These clouds did not extend into the higher altitudes—into the moon's troposphere, where regular clouds form. In other words, says Brown, they had found fog.

"Fog—or clouds, or dew, or condensation in general—can form whenever air reaches about 100 percent humidity," Brown says. "There are two ways to get there. The first is obvious: add water (on Earth) or methane (on Titan) to the surrounding air. The second is much more common: make the air colder so it can hold less water (or liquid methane), and all of that excess needs to condense."

On Earth, this is the most common method of making fog, Brown says. "That fog you often see at sunrise hugging the ground is caused by ground-level air cooling overnight, to the point where it cannot hang onto its water. As the sun rises and the air heats, the fog goes away."

Similarly, fog can form when wet air passes over cold ground; as the air cools, the water condenses. And mountain fog occurs when air gets pushed up the side of a mountain and cools, causing the water to condense.

However, none of these mechanisms work on Titan.

The reason is that Titan's muggy atmosphere takes a notoriously long time to cool (or warm). "If you were to turn the sun totally off, Titan's atmosphere would still take something like 100 years to cool down," Brown says. "Even the coldest parts of the surface are much too warm to ever cause fog to condense."

Mountain fog is also out of the question, he adds. "A Titanian mountain would have to be about 15,000 feet high before the air would get cold enough to condense," he says. And yet the tallest mountains the moon could possibly carry (because of its fragile, icy crust) would be no more than 3000 feet high.

The only possible way to make Titanian fog, then, is to add humidity to the air. And the only way to do that, Brown says, is by evaporating liquid—in this case, methane, the most common hydrocarbon on the moon, which exists in solid, liquid, and gaseous forms.

Brown notes that evaporating methane on Titan "means it must have rained, and rain means streams and pools and erosion and geology. The presence of fog on Titan proves, for the first time, that the moon has a currently active methane hydrological cycle."

The presence of fog also proves that the moon must be dotted with methane pools, Brown says. That's because any ground-level air, after becoming 100 percent humid and turning into fog, would instantly rise up into the atmosphere like a giant cumulus cloud. "The only way to make the fog stick around on the ground is to both add humidity and cool the air just a little," he explains. "The way to cool the air just a little is to have it in contact with something cold, like a pool of evaporating liquid methane."

Elvis Telecom, Tuesday, 22 December 2009 03:36 (seven years ago) Permalink

Meet Prometheus the space yam

Elvis Telecom, Monday, 28 December 2009 05:41 (seven years ago) Permalink

one month passes...

So remember those spokes in the B-ring of Saturn? They're 100% water ice

Elvis Telecom, Monday, 1 February 2010 00:24 (seven years ago) Permalink

A nicely banal answer (not everything needs to be mysterious!)

Ned Raggett, Monday, 1 February 2010 01:42 (seven years ago) Permalink

And Cassini is go to keep on going (potentially through 2017)

Elvis Telecom, Wednesday, 3 February 2010 19:57 (seven years ago) Permalink

Visiting the Death Star

Elvis Telecom, Tuesday, 16 February 2010 23:16 (seven years ago) Permalink

No trench no credibility

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 16 February 2010 23:19 (seven years ago) Permalink

one month passes...

Lightning spotted visually in Saturn's atmosphere

(there's a movie at the NASA link)

Elvis Telecom, Wednesday, 14 April 2010 20:02 (seven years ago) Permalink

one month passes...

The Big Picture goes to Saturn:

Elvis Telecom, Saturday, 22 May 2010 01:33 (six years ago) Permalink

does anybody know when NASA's gonna probe uranus?

Face Book (dyao), Saturday, 22 May 2010 01:44 (six years ago) Permalink

seriously, though

Saturn's tiny moon Helene, seen here by Cassini on March 03, 2010. Discovered in 1980, Helene is only 35 km (28 mi) wide. (NASA/JPL) #

the fact that we can discover something so small floating in space is mind boggling.

Face Book (dyao), Saturday, 22 May 2010 01:51 (six years ago) Permalink

I also love this:

Cassini scientists were able to correlate the reflection to the southern shoreline of a Titan lake called Kraken Mare. The sprawling Kraken Mare covers about 400,000 sq km (150,000 sq mi).

kraken mare!

Face Book (dyao), Saturday, 22 May 2010 01:56 (six years ago) Permalink

two weeks pass...

Not from Cassini, but related: Image of the Day: Saturn's Newly Discovered Immense Outer Ring

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope discovered an enormous ring around Saturn -- by far the largest of the giant planet's many rings. The belt lies at the far reaches of the Saturnian system, with an orbit tilted 27 degrees from the main ring plane. The bulk of its material starts about six million kilometers (3.7 million miles) away from the planet and extends outward roughly another 12 million kilometers (7.4 million miles). One of Saturn's farthest moons, Phoebe, circles within the newfound ring, and is likely the source of its material.

Saturn's newest halo is thick, too -- its vertical height is about 20 times the diameter of the planet. It would take about one billion Earths stacked together to fill the ring.

"This is one supersized ring," said Anne Verbiscer, an astronomer at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. "If you could see the ring, it would span the width of two full moons' worth of sky, one on either side of Saturn."

The ring itself is tenuous, made up of a thin array of ice and dust particles. Spitzer's infrared eyes were able to spot the glow of the band's cool dust. The telescope, launched in 2003, is currently 107 million kilometers (66 million miles) from Earth in orbit around the sun.

The discovery may help solve an age-old riddle of one of Saturn's moons. Iapetus has a strange appearance -- one side is bright and the other is really dark, in a pattern that resembles the yin-yang symbol. The astronomer Giovanni Cassini first spotted the moon in 1671, and years later figured out it has a dark side, now named Cassini Regio in his honor. A stunning picture of Iapetus taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft is online .

Saturn's newest addition could explain how Cassini Regio came to be. The ring is circling in the same direction as Phoebe, while Iapetus, the other rings and most of Saturn's moons are all going the opposite way. According to the scientists, some of the dark and dusty material from the outer ring moves inward toward Iapetus, slamming the icy moon like bugs on a windshield.

"Astronomers have long suspected that there is a connection between Saturn's outer moon Phoebe and the dark material on Iapetus," said Hamilton. "This new ring provides convincing evidence of that relationship."

The ring would be difficult to see with visible-light telescopes. Its particles are diffuse and may even extend beyond the bulk of the ring material all the way in to Saturn and all the way out to interplanetary space. The relatively small numbers of particles in the ring wouldn't reflect much visible light, especially out at Saturn where sunlight is weak.

"The particles are so far apart that if you were to stand in the ring, you wouldn't even know it," said Verbiscer.

Spitzer was able to sense the glow of the cool dust, which is only about 80 Kelvin (minus 316 degrees Fahrenheit). Cool objects shine with infrared, or thermal radiation; for example, even a cup of ice cream is blazing with infrared light. "By focusing on the glow of the ring's cool dust, Spitzer made it easy to find," said Verbiscer.

Elvis Telecom, Wednesday, 9 June 2010 23:33 (six years ago) Permalink

yup 80 kelvin

Jarlrmai, Thursday, 10 June 2010 11:46 (six years ago) Permalink

three months pass...

Springtime on Titan

Elvis Telecom, Thursday, 23 September 2010 01:59 (six years ago) Permalink

one month passes...

Stockhausen's Helicopter Quartet (Elvis Telecom), Wednesday, 3 November 2010 00:13 (six years ago) Permalink

four weeks pass...

Enceladus Fissures Keep Getting Warmer and More Complex

As Cassini scientists await the data from today’s flyby of Enceladus, images and data from August of this year have provided more insight into the active fissures on the icy moon’s south polar region. These geyser-spewing fractures are warmer and more complicated than previously thought.

“The exquisite resolution obtained on one segment of the Damascus fracture — one of the most active regions within the south polar terrain — has revealed a surface temperature reaching a staggering 190 Kelvin, or 120 degrees below zero Fahrenheit,” said Cassini imaging team lead Carolyn Porco, in an email announcing the new images. “Far from the fractures, the temperature of the south polar terrain dips as low as 52 Kelvin, or 365 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.”

Porco said that what this means is that a phenomenal amount of heat is emerging from the fractures which are “undoubtedly the result of the tidal flexing of Enceladus brought about by its orbital resonance with Dione. However, details of this heating process are still unclear and are being studied at this very moment.”

By way of comparison, Antarctica at it's coldest is about -120F. However, these kinds of surface temperatures at the distance of Saturn is pretty special.

Stockhausen's Ekranoplan Quartet (Elvis Telecom), Wednesday, 1 December 2010 00:50 (six years ago) Permalink

three months pass...

No CGI used in this fly-by video of Saturn - it's made up entirely of images

Stockhausen's Ekranoplan Quartet (Elvis Telecom), Wednesday, 16 March 2011 03:55 (six years ago) Permalink

this is The Thread That Keeps On Giving. Great work again, ET.

Bill A, Wednesday, 16 March 2011 10:46 (six years ago) Permalink


Morty Maxwell (crüt), Wednesday, 16 March 2011 11:00 (six years ago) Permalink

There's a nice interview with the guy who did it here.

I'm sorry, I did not create the cosmos, I merely explain it. (Ned Trifle II), Wednesday, 16 March 2011 11:02 (six years ago) Permalink

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