NASA's Cassini spacecraft sending new info from Saturn's moons

Last Updated: Sat, Feb 16, 2013 11:30 hrs

NASA's longstanding Cassini mission to Saturn continues to provide scientists with exciting new insights on moons Titan and Enceladus as well as the planet's striking rings.

"Cassini, our emissary in the Saturn system since 2004, and the only spacecraft in orbit in the outer solar system, is still going strong," Planetary Science Institute Senior Scientist Amanda R. Hendrix said.

"Cassini's longevity allows the study of seasonal variations, along with temporal variations on a variety of scales-and its suite of 12 instruments is making complementary measurements, providing insight into different aspects of various scientific discoveries," Hendrix, an investigator on the Cassini mission, said.

These areas of study include Titan's lakes: composition, depth and seasonal variability; Titan's weather patterns; the interior structure of Titan; Enceladus' startling plume activity; surprises on the other moons, such as Iapetus, Dione and Mimas; and Saturn's bizarre collection of small moons.

Cassini will remain in orbit around Saturn until September 2017. The spacecraft began increasing its orbital inclination again last year, allowing for prime viewing of the magnificent rings, as well as the high latitudes of the planet and Titan.

The first glimpses of Titan's surface were provided by the Huygens probe, launched as part of the Cassini-Huygens mission.

The probe was released in late 2004 and made its way through the hazy atmosphere of Titan to the surface in January 2005.

Images of Titan's surface-including its amazing lakes, dunes and river channels-continue to be returned by Cassini's radar instrument, along with the imaging camera and the infrared mapping spectrometer.

The remaining instruments in Cassini's payload study the atmosphere, and its seasonal variations, while the radio science antenna makes measurements of Titan's interior structure and its subsurface ocean. (ANI)

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