Category Archives: Cassini

Cassini’s Final Five

Hard to imagine Cassini is about to begin the last five orbits of the mission. No mission extensions this time, Cassini will become part of Saturn.

The image is from 12 August 2014 credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

The Final Five from NASA:

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will enter new territory in its final mission phase, the Grand Finale, as it prepares to embark on a set of ultra-close passes through Saturn’s upper atmosphere with its final five orbits around the planet.

Cassini will make the first of these five passes over Saturn at 12:22 a.m. EDT Monday, Aug. 14. The spacecraft’s point of closest approach to Saturn during these passes will be between about 1,010 and 1,060 miles (1,630 and 1,710 kilometers) above Saturn’s cloud tops.

The spacecraft is expected to encounter atmosphere dense enough to require the use of its small rocket thrusters to maintain stability – conditions similar to those encountered during many of Cassini’s close flybys of Saturn’s moon Titan, which has its own dense atmosphere.

“Cassini’s Titan flybys prepared us for these rapid passes through Saturn’s upper atmosphere,” said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. “Thanks to our past experience, the team is confident that we understand how the spacecraft will behave at the atmospheric densities our models predict.”

Maize said the team will consider the Aug. 14 pass nominal if the thrusters operate between 10 and 60 percent of their capability. If the thrusters are forced to work harder – meaning the atmosphere is denser than models predict – engineers will increase the altitude of subsequent orbits. Referred to as a “pop-up maneuver,” thrusters will be used to raise the altitude of closest approach on the next passes, likely by about 120 miles (200 kilometers).

If the pop-up maneuver is not needed, and the atmosphere is less dense than expected during the first three passes, engineers may alternately use the “pop-down” option to lower the closest approach altitude of the last two orbits, also likely by about 120 miles (200 kilometers). Doing so would enable Cassini’s science instruments, especially the ion and neutral mass spectrometer (INMS), to obtain data on the atmosphere even closer to the planet’s cloud tops.

“As it makes these five dips into Saturn, followed by its final plunge, Cassini will become the first Saturn atmospheric probe,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at JPL. “It’s long been a goal in planetary exploration to send a dedicated probe into the atmosphere of Saturn, and we’re laying the groundwork for future exploration with this first foray.”

Other Cassini instruments will make detailed, high-resolution observations of Saturn’s auroras, temperature, and the vortexes at the planet’s poles. Its radar will peer deep into the atmosphere to reveal small-scale features as fine as 16 miles (25 kilometers) wide – nearly 100 times smaller than the spacecraft could observe prior to the Grand Finale.

On Sept. 11, a distant encounter with Titan will serve as a gravitational version of a large pop-down maneuver, slowing Cassini’s orbit around Saturn and bending its path slightly to send the spacecraft toward its Sept. 15 plunge into the planet.

During the half-orbit plunge, the plan is to have seven Cassini science instruments, including INMS, turned on and reporting measurements in near real time. The spacecraft is expected to reach an altitude where atmospheric density is about twice what it encountered during its final five passes. Once Cassini reaches that point, its thrusters will no longer be able to work against the push of Saturn’s atmosphere to keep the spacecraft’s antenna pointed toward Earth, and contact will permanently be lost. The spacecraft will break up like a meteor moments later, ending its long and rewarding journey.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. JPL manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini spacecraft.

Prometheus

A nice view of the tiny Saturn moon Prometheus and the wave in the F ring created by it’s gravitational wake that its gravity creates.

Have a look at our page about Prometheus.

The original caption:

The thin sliver of Saturn’s moon Prometheus lurks near ghostly structures in Saturn’s narrow F ring in this view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Many of the narrow ring’s faint and wispy features result from its gravitational interactions with Prometheus (86 kilometers, or 53 miles across).

Most of the small moon’s surface is in darkness due to the viewing geometry here. Cassini was positioned behind Saturn and Prometheus with respect to the sun, looking toward the moon’s dark side and just a bit of the moon’s sunlit northern hemisphere.

Also visible here is a distinct difference in brightness between the outermost section of Saturn’s A ring (left of center) and rest of the ring, interior to the Keeler Gap (lower left).

This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 13 degrees above the ring plane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on May 13, 2017.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 680,000 miles (1.1 million kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale is 4 miles (6 kilometers) per pixel.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn’s Haze

What a great image from Cassini! Click the image for a larger version and you can see the haze in the very upper reaches of Saturn’s atmosphere.

NASA – This false-color view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft gazes toward the rings beyond Saturn’s sunlit horizon. Along the limb (the planet’s edge) at left can be seen a thin, detached haze. This haze vanishes toward the left side of the scene.

Cassini will pass through Saturn’s upper atmosphere during the final five orbits of the mission, before making a fateful plunge into Saturn on Sept. 15, 2017. The region through which the spacecraft will fly on those last orbits is well above the haze seen here, which is in Saturn’s stratosphere. In fact, even when Cassini plunges toward Saturn to meet its fate, contact with the spacecraft is expected to be lost before it reaches the depth of this haze.

This view is a false-color composite made using images taken in red, green and ultraviolet spectral filters. The images were obtained using the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on July 16, 2017, at a distance of about 777,000 miles (1.25 million kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale is about 4 miles (7 kilometers) per pixel on Saturn.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Enceladus Jets

 

We are just two months from the end of the Cassini mission!

NASA – Enceladus’ intriguing south-polar jets are viewed from afar, backlit by sunlight while the moon itself glows softly in reflected Saturn-shine.

Observations of the jets taken from various viewing geometries provide different insights into these remarkable features. Cassini has gathered a wealth of information in the hopes of unraveling the mysteries of the subsurface ocean that lurks beneath the moon’s icy crust.

This view looks toward the Saturn-facing hemisphere of Enceladus (313 miles or 504 kilometers across). North is up. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on April 13, 2017.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 502,000 miles (808,000 kilometers) from Enceladus and at a sun-Enceladus-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 176 degrees. Image scale is 3 miles (5 kilometers) per pixel.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn Sunrise

Let’s see in the magnitude system each step is a difference of about 2.5 times so 100 x would be about 5 magnitudes. Trying to figure out what that would look like here, I should be able to.

Click the image for a nice large version of this Cassini image (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

NASA — The light of a new day on Saturn illuminates the planet’s wavy cloud patterns and the smooth arcs of the vast rings.

The light has traveled around 80 minutes since it left the sun’s surface by the time it reaches Saturn. The illumination it provides is feeble; Earth gets 100 times the intensity since it’s roughly ten times closer to the sun. Yet compared to the deep blackness of space, everything at Saturn still shines bright in the sunlight, be it direct or reflected.

This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 10 degrees above the ring plane. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Feb. 25, 2017 using a spectral filter which preferentially admits wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 939 nanometers.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 762,000 miles (1.23 million kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale is 45 miles (73 kilometers) per pixel.

Epimetheus Close Up

One of the best close-ups of Epimetheus we will see in a long time. I always like to see how the moon almost has a “grain” to it likely from millions of small impacts.

NASA – This zoomed-in view of Epimetheus, one of the highest resolution ever taken, shows a surface covered in craters, vivid reminders of the hazards of space.

Epimetheus (70 miles or 113 kilometers across) is too small for its gravity to hold onto an atmosphere. It is also too small to be geologically active. There is therefore no way to erase the scars from meteor impacts, except for the generation of new impact craters on top of old ones.

This view looks toward anti-Saturn side of Epimetheus. North on Epimetheus is up and rotated 32 degrees to the right. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Feb. 21, 2017 using a spectral filter which preferentially admits wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 939 nanometers.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 9,300 miles (15,000 kilometers) from Epimetheus and at a Sun-Epimetheus-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 71 degrees. Image scale is 290 feet (89 meters) per pixel.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Pattypans At Saturn

These three Saturn moons: Atlas, Daphnis, and Pan, remind me of the Pattypan squash and for good reason.

NASA –

This montage of views from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft shows three of Saturn’s small ring moons: Atlas, Daphnis and Pan at the same scale for ease of comparison.

Two differences between Atlas and Pan are obvious in this montage. Pan’s equatorial band is much thinner and more sharply defined, and the central mass of Atlas (the part underneath the smooth equatorial band) appears to be smaller than that of Pan.

Images of Atlas and Pan taken using infrared, green and ultraviolet spectral filters were combined to create enhanced-color views (Figure 1), which highlight subtle color differences across the moons’ surfaces at wavelengths not visible to human eyes. (The Daphnis image in Figure 1 was colored using the same green filter image for all three color channels, adjusted to have a realistic appearance next to the other two moons.)

A version of the montage using only monochrome images is also provided (Figure 2).

All of these images were taken using the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera. The images of Atlas were acquired on April 12, 2017, at a distance of 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) and at a sun-moon-spacecraft angle (or phase angle) of 37 degrees. The images of Pan were taken on March 7, 2017, at a distance of 16,000 miles (26,000 kilometers) and a phase angle of 21 degrees. The Daphnis image was obtained on Jan. 16, 2017, at a distance of 17,000 miles (28,000 kilometers) and at a phase angle of 71 degrees. All images are oriented so that north is up.

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and https://www.nasa.gov/cassini. The Cassini imaging team homepage is at https://ciclops.org.

Image Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

 

Saturn Dawn

NASA – NASA’s Cassini spacecraft peers toward a sliver of Saturn’s sunlit atmosphere while the icy rings stretch across the foreground as a dark band.

This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from about 7 degrees below the ring plane. The image was taken in green light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on March 31, 2017.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 620,000 miles (1 million kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale is 38 miles (61 kilometers) per pixel.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Summer on Titan

It’s a cold summer,  temperature should be about – 179 C / -290 F.

NASA — NASA’s Cassini spacecraft sees bright methane clouds drifting in the summer skies of Saturn’s moon Titan, along with dark hydrocarbon lakes and seas clustered around the north pole.

Compared to earlier in Cassini’s mission, most of the surface in the moon’s northern high latitudes is now illuminated by the sun. (See PIA08363 for a view of the northern hemisphere from 2007.) Summer solstice in the Saturn system occurred on May 24, 2017.

The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on June 9, 2017, using a spectral filter that preferentially admits wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 938 nanometers. Cassini obtained the view at a distance of about 315,000 miles (507,000 kilometers) from Titan.

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute