Cassini-Huygens spacecraft is “Running Rings Around Saturn”
“Ralphie the Buffalo is now orbiting Saturn,” said Dr. Josh Colwell, co-investigator working to interpret information sent back from the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft. The instrument began orbiting Saturn in June 2004 after a seven-year journey from the Kennedy Space Center.
Colwell gave a presentation called “Running Rings Around Saturn” on Tuesday night as part of a series of lectures hosted by the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. During the presentation he identified the findings of the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft so far.
There is a sticker of Ralphie on the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph, one of the sensors attached to the spacecraft, which was built by LASP at CU.
The UVIS is a set of telescopes used to measure ultraviolet light from the Saturn system’s atmospheres, rings and surface, according to the LASP Web site: http://lasp.colorado.edu/cassini.
In order to understand how the earth formed, and how life came to be here, it is important to understand the larger picture.
“We can’t come up with a theory without understanding the origin of the whole solar system,” Colwell said.
The Cassini Mission has already recorded a number of different discoveries, including geysers on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons.
Individually, Colwell is “interested in the origin of Saturn’s rings, how old they are, where they formed and how quickly they evolved,” he said.
Discoveries made by the Cassini spacecraft may affect what scientists know about Earth and other planets.
“How we have defined planets, how we have defined the envelope of what is possible is changing monthly,” said Emily CoBabe-Ammann, a research associate with LASP. “Every time we see something new on Saturn, we have to go back and redefine everything we thought we knew about how planets in a system work.”
Members of the project are in the middle of requesting a two-year extension to the previously scheduled four-year mission.
“There is much more than we imagined and there is much more that we would like to see,” Colwell said. “Saturn’s seasons are seven and a half years long, so the two-year extension would let us see the changing of the seasons.”
The purpose of the mission is to perform close-up studies of Saturn, its rings, moons and magnetic environment, according to the LASP Web site.
“To me Cassini represents the pinnacle of the importance of exploration,” CoBabe-Ammann said.
For more information about the Cassini Mission, visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.