Cassini-Huygens Mission Celebrates Anniversary

Oct 19, 2005

On the eighth anniversary of the launch of the NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, the teams involved can look back at a string of remarkable discoveries.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is one of the largest and most advanced planetary exploration missions ever launched. It consists of two parts - the Cassini orbiter and the Huygens probe.

Cassini is currently orbiting Saturn and taking pictures and measurements of Saturn and its moons, rings and magnetosphere. Huygens successfully parachuted down through the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, at the start of 2005.

The mission was launched on 15 October 1997 and took nearly seven years to reach Saturn, arriving on 1 July 2004. The route it took to Saturn involved fly-bys of Venus, Earth and Jupiter to help give it the energy necessary to reach Saturn.

Saturn itself is the second largest planet in the Solar System. It is made of gas with a solid core and a liquid layer, and is famous for its rings which are made chiefly of ice with some rocky material acting as a colouring agent.

So far, it also has 34 named moons (47 in total), including Titan that is known to have a thick nitrogen atmosphere rich in methane and is thought to bear similarities with our planet in its 'pre-biotic' stage (just before life began).

Since arriving at Saturn on 1 July 2004, Cassini has taken over 35 000 images of Saturn and its magnificent rings and its amazing moons. Numerous discoveries have been made about the rings, the moons, the dynamic magnetosphere and the planet itself.

Cassini's remarkable instruments provided the first glimpses of Titan's surface and gained a global picture of this hazy world.

Cassini's radar provided the first pictures of Titan's surface. The orbiter also provided the first detailed global view, including possible volcanoes, rain clouds, flow features, lakes, craters and vast dune fields, as well as other puzzling terrain. A soup of complex hydrocarbons, including benzene, has been detected in Titan's atmosphere.

But the highlight of the mission so far is clearly the lifting of the veil on smog-covered Titan. At around 11:30 UT, 14 January 2005, ESA's Huygens probe landed the surface of this distant world. This event makes it the only landing to take place in the outer Solar System and the furthest from Earth.

The Huygens probe showed that Titan's surface has Earth-like processes and morphology, complete with evidence for methane rain, erosion, stream-like drainage channels and dry lake beds.

Copyright 2005 by Space Daily, Distributed United Press International

Explore further: Innovative use of pressurant extends MESSENGER's mission, enables collection of new data

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Saturn's moons: What a difference a decade makes

Dec 11, 2014

Almost immediately after NASA's twin Voyager spacecraft made their brief visits to Saturn in the early 1980s, scientists were hungry for more. The Voyagers had offered them only a brief glimpse of a family ...

Study offers explanation for Titan dune puzzle

Dec 08, 2014

Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is a peculiar place. Unlike any other moon, it has a dense atmosphere. It has rivers and lakes made up of components of natural gas, such as ethane and methane. It also has windswept ...

Mars, too, has macroweather

Nov 13, 2014

Weather, which changes day-to-day due to constant fluctuations in the atmosphere, and climate, which varies over decades, are familiar. More recently, a third regime, called "macroweather," has been used ...

Cassini sails into new ocean adventures on Titan

Nov 11, 2014

(Phys.org) —NASA's Cassini mission continues its adventures in extraterrestrial oceanography with new findings about the hydrocarbon seas on Saturn's moon Titan. During a flyby in August, the spacecraft ...

Recommended for you

The top 101 astronomical events to watch for in 2015

Dec 24, 2014

Now in its seventh year of compilation and the second year running on Universe Today, we're proud to feature our list of astronomical happenings for the coming year. Print it, bookmark it, hang it on your ...

NASA image: Frosty slopes on Mars

Dec 24, 2014

This image of an area on the surface of Mars, approximately 1.5 by 3 kilometers in size, shows frosted gullies on a south-facing slope within a crater.

Can astronomy explain the biblical Star of Bethlehem?

Dec 24, 2014

Bright stars top Christmas trees in Christian homes around much of the world. The faithful sing about the Star of Wonder that guided the wise men to a manger in the little town of Bethlehem, where Jesus was ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.