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.
University of Colorado Boulder students and LASP professionals will operate an upcoming NASA mission that will investigate the mysterious aspects of some of the most extreme and exotic astronomical objects like stellar and supermassive black holes, neutron stars and pulsars.
Objects such as black holes can heat surrounding gases to more than a million degrees, causing high-energy emissions in the X-ray portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The high-energy X-ray radiation from this gas can be polarized, which causes it to vibrate in a particular direction.
The NASA Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission will fly three space telescopes with cameras capable of measuring the polarization of cosmic X-rays, allowing astronomers to answer fundamental questions about such turbulent environments.
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.