On its last orbits in 2017, the long-running Cassini spacecraft dove between Saturn’s rings and its upper atmosphere and bathed in a downpour of dust that astronomers call “ring rain.”
In research published today in Science, LASP research associate Hsiang-Wen (Sean) Hsu and his colleagues report that they successfully collected microscopic material streaming from the planet’s rings.
The findings, which were made with Cassini’s Cosmic Dust Analyzer and Radio and Plasma Wave Science instruments, come a little more than a year after the spacecraft burned up in Saturn’s atmosphere. They stem from the mission’s “grand finale,” in which Cassini completed a series of risky maneuvers to zip under the planet’s rings at speeds of 75,000 miles per hour.
New data collected from the Cassini spacecraft have revealed complex organic molecules originating from Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, strengthening the idea that this ocean world hosts conditions suitable for life.
LASP research scientists Sascha Kempf and Sean Hsu co-authored a new study, published in Nature, based on the data.
Very little was known about Enceladus prior to 2005—the year when Cassini first flew by. Since then, it has become a continuous source of surprises, with secrets still being revealed even now, after the end of the mission.
LASP planetary scientist Larry Esposito has been eying the fabulous rings of Saturn for much of his career, beginning as a team scientist on NASA’s Pioneer 11 mission when he discovered the planet’s faint F ring in 1979.
He followed that up with observations of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s rings from the Voyager and Galileo spacecraft, which carried instruments designed and built at LASP. Now, as the principal investigator for the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVIS) on the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, Esposito and his Cassini colleagues are feeling a bit somber as the mission nears its end. The spacecraft has run out of fuel and will disintegrate in Saturn’s dense atmosphere early on the morning of Sept. 15.
In 1977, two NASA space probes destined to forever upend our view of the solar system launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The identical spacecraft, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, took off in in August and September 40 years ago and were programmed to pass by Jupiter and Saturn on different paths. Voyager 2 went on to visit Uranus and Neptune, completing NASA’s “Grand Tour of the Solar System,” perhaps the most exhilarating interplanetary mission ever flown.
CU Boulder scientists at LASP, who designed and built identical instruments for Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, were as stunned as anyone when the spacecraft began sending back data to Earth.
Toting an ultraviolet instrument designed and built by LASP, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made the first of 22 dives between the rings of Saturn and the gaseous planet today, the beginning of the end for one of NASA’s most successful missions ever.
Launched in 1997 and pulling up at Saturn in 2004 for the first of hundreds of orbits through the Jovian system, the Cassini-Huygens mission has fostered scores of dazzling discoveries. These include in-depth studies that date and even weigh the astonishing rings; the discovery of methane lakes on the icy moon Titan; hot water plumes found squirting from the moon Enceladus; and closeup views of the bright auroras at the planet’s poles.
Planetary scientists are a step closer to understanding changes in the puzzling jets of gas and dust grains observed shooting into space from cracks on the icy surface of Enceladus, a moon of Saturn.
First observed in 2005 by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft as it orbited the ringed planet, the plume is coming from a subterranean, salty ocean beneath the moon’s surface. The latest observations with NASA’s Cassini spacecraft now at Saturn by a team including Larry Esposito, LASP planetary scientist and University of Colorado Boulder professor, indicate at least some of the narrow jets there blast with increased fury when the moon is farther from Saturn.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has detected the faint but distinct signature of dust coming from beyond our solar system. The research, led by a team that includes scientists at the University of Colorado and LASP, will be published in the journal Science on Friday, April 15, 2016.
Cassini has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004, studying the giant planet, its rings, and its moons. The spacecraft has also sampled millions of ice-rich dust grains with its Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA) instrument. LASP research scientists Sascha Kempf, Sean Hsu, and Eberhard Grün are all co-investigators for the Cassini CDA instrument and co-authors of the paper.
Scientists with NASA’s Cassini mission, led by LASP and University of Colorado postdoctoral researcher, Sean Hsu, have found that microscopic grains of rock detected near Saturn imply hydrothermal activity is taking place within the moon Enceladus.
This is the first clear indication of an icy moon having hydrothermal activity—in which seawater infiltrates and reacts with a rocky crust, emerging as a heated, mineral-laden solution. The finding adds to the tantalizing possibility that Enceladus, which displays remarkable geologic activity including geysers, could contain environments suitable for living organisms.
The results were published today in the journal Nature.
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum presented the 2012 Trophy for Current Achievement, its highest group award, to the NASA Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn on March 21 in Washington, D.C. The Cassini spacecraft carries the LASP-built Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph Subsystem (UVIS), which measures ultraviolet light in Saturn’s system to better understand the planet’s atmospheres,… Read more »
Press Release for 2007 DPS Meeting Saturn’s rings may be more massive than previously thought. Both Cassini observations and theoretical simulations of Saturn’s rings point towards extensive particle clumping in Saturn’s rings. Our simulations of the rings show that the surface density of particles can be substantially larger than one would infer from a uniform… Read more »