Cassini Science Highlights: Surprises in the Saturn System

Saturday, 14 February 2015: 10:00 AM-11:30 AM
Room LL21D (San Jose Convention Center)
Linda J. Spilker, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, La Caņada Flintridge, CA
Cassini's findings have revolutionized our understanding of Saturn, its complex rings, the amazing assortment of moons and the planet's dynamic magnetic environment. The robotic spacecraft arrived in 2004 after a 7-year flight from Earth, dropped a parachuted probe to study the atmosphere and surface of Saturn's big moon Titan, and commenced making astonishing discoveries that continue today. Icy jets shoot from the tiny moon Enceladus. Titan's hydrocarbon lakes and seas are dominated by liquid ethane and methane, and complex pre-biotic chemicals form in the atmosphere and rain to the surface. Three-dimensional structures tower above Saturn's rings, and a giant Saturn storm circled the entire planet for most of 2011. Cassini's findings at Saturn have also fundamentally altered many of our concepts of how planets form around stars.

Cassini is now in the last three years of a seven-year phase called the Solstice Mission, returning science in a hitherto unobserved seasonal phase from equinox to solstice. The Solstice Mission is providing new science; first, by observing seasonally and temporally dependent processes on Saturn, Titan, Enceladus and other icy moons, and within the rings and magnetosphere; second, by addressing new questions that have arisen during the mission thus far, for example providing qualitatively new measurements of Enceladus and Titan which could not be accommodated in the earlier mission phases; and third, by conducting a close-in mission at Saturn that would provide a unique comparison to the Juno observations at Jupiter.

This flagship mission is a cooperative undertaking by NASA, ESA, and the Italian space agency (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI)).  Highlights from 10 years of Cassini's ambitious inquiry at Saturn will be presented.

This work was carried out in part at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under contract with NASA.  Copyright 2014 California Institute of Technology. Government sponsorship is acknowledged.