False color Cassini image illustrating the jets of fine icy particles erupting from the south polar region of Enceladus. Please
Credit: Cassini Imaging Team and NASA/JPL/SSI
More than 1,400 scientists gathered last week to mark the 10th anniversary of the launch of the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft to Saturn and discuss the mission?s latest discoveries.
Since liftoff on Oct. 15, 1997, aboard a U.S. Air Force Titan 4B rocket, the mission's scientific instruments powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators have captured a great deal of new information about Saturn?s rings and moons.
"With Cassini, amazing discoveries have almost become routine," said Cassini project scientist Dennis Matson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who manages Cassini?s science activities.
Those discoveries include ice geysers shooting from Saturn's moon Enceladus and finding that one of Saturn?s rings is created from such ice particles. Cassini will get an even closer look in March 2008 when its third flyby of the moon takes it directly into an icy polar geyser. Scientists want to confirm their suspicions that the geyser is 90 percent water-ice crystals. Ammonia and methane gas are probably also present there, Matson said.
The Cassini orbiter deployed the European Space Agency?s (ESA) Huygens probe which parachuted down to the frozen surface of Titan a moon with lakes of hydrocarbons and complex chemistry that includes methane drizzles on Jan. 14, 2005. Scientists around the world are recreating conditions on Titan?s surface by using information sent back by Huygens. Cassini has also used an onboard radar instrument to peer through the thick clouds of Titan.
?For all of us so closely involved in discovering an Earth-like world, it was worth the long trip. We are now learning about terrestrial-processes that take place on another world which is fascinating. Cassini-Huygens is truly a success story in international cooperation,? said Jean-Pierre Lebreton, ESA Huygens project scientist.
Saturn is still shrouded in mysteries, but Cassini continues to deliver data well beyond its mission life of four years.
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