Category Archives: Cassini

Has Cassini seen the birth of a new Saturnian moon?

Image from the Cassini spacecraft showing the disturbances along the edge of Saturn's A ring which are thought to be caused by the formation of a new moon. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Image from the Cassini spacecraft showing the disturbances along the edge of Saturn’s A ring which are thought to be caused by the formation of a new moon. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn has dozens of moons, ranging from the largest, Titan, which is larger than our own Moon, to small asteroid-sized objects. Now it seems that the Cassini spacecraft may have witnessed the formation of yet another moon, actually seeing the process as it is happening.

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Image Gallery: Saturn and Enceladus

Saturn with its rings seen edge-on and tiny Enceladus can be seen just in front of the rings. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Saturn with its rings seen edge-on and tiny Enceladus can be seen just in front of the rings. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

This image of Saturn from the Cassini spacecraft shows the planet with its rings edge-on, as a thin vertical line, against the massive gas giant planet itself. The shadows from the rings are on the left side of the planet, and if you look closely, the tiny watery moon Enceladus can be seen just in front of the rings as a dark dot. A very surreal view of this beautiful world.

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Image Gallery: the plumes of Enceladus

The water vapour plumes of Enceladus. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / 2di7 & titanio44 (Alive Universe Images)

The water vapour plumes of Enceladus. Click for larger view. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / 2di7 & titanio44 (Alive Universe Images)

An amazing view of the water vapour plumes erupting from the “tiger stripe” fissures at the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The plumes have been sampled and analzyed by the Cassini spacecraft and found to contain water vapour, ice particles, salts and organics. As just reported also, there is now evidence for a subsurface water ocean beneath the ice in this area as well. Additional enhancement and processing by 2di7 & titanio44 of Alive Universe Images.

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The sea of Enceladus: Cassini confirms underground ocean on Saturn’s geyser moon

Diagram of what the interior of Enceladus is now thought to look like, with the icy outer shell, liquid water ocean, and inner rocky core. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Diagram of what the interior of Enceladus is now thought to look like, with the icy outer shell, liquid water ocean, and inner rocky core. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Coming just after the news of the ringed asteroid and new dwarf planet, some more exciting news from the outer Solar System was announced last Thursday, and this will be of particular interest to those hoping to find evidence of alien life elsewhere in our solar system. Saturn’s tiny moon Enceladus, famous for its geysers of water vapour spewing out into space, has long been suspected of harboring an internal ocean, just like Jupiter’s moon Europa (and possibly others). Now it seems that scientists have the evidence they’ve been looking for, thanks to new findings based on data returned by the Cassini spacecraft, still in orbit around Saturn.

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Beautiful new views of Saturn’s auroras

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Auroras are one of the most beautiful natural phenomena on Earth, but they can be found on other planets in the solar system as well, notably the gas giants. New photos and video were released today, February 11, 2014, of just such displays on Saturn, which is already well known of course for its stunning rings and hexagonal bands of clouds at its north pole.

The auroras at Saturn’s north pole were seen by the orbiting Cassini spacecraft as well as the Hubble Space Telescope and viewed in infrared, visible-light and ultraviolet wavelengths.

There’s no guarantee you will always see Saturn’s light displays, as Jonathan Nichols of the University of Leicester in England explained:

“Saturn’s auroras can be fickle – you may see fireworks, you may see nothing. In 2013, we were treated to a veritable smorgasbord of dancing auroras, from steadily shining rings to super-fast bursts of light shooting across the pole.”

Mosaic of ultraviolet and infrared images of auroras at Saturn's north pole. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Colorado/Central Arizona College and NASA/ESA/University of Leicester and NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Lancaster University

Mosaic of ultraviolet and infrared images of auroras at Saturn’s north pole. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Colorado/Central Arizona College and NASA/ESA/University of Leicester and NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Lancaster University

“This is our best look yet at the rapidly changing patterns of auroral emission,” said Wayne Pryor, a Cassini co-investigator at Central Arizona College in Coolidge, Ariz. “Some bright spots come and go from image to image. Other bright features persist and rotate around the pole, but at a rate slower than Saturn’s rotation.”

The images were initially taken last April and May in 2013, and show changing patterns of light down to a scale of a few hundred kilometres / miles, pretty good for a planet as large as Saturn.

Like on Earth, the auroras form as charged particles coming from the Sun interact with Saturn’s atmosphere. One interesting difference is in colour – while Earth’s auroras tend to be green at the bottom and red at the top, Saturn’s are red at the bottom and purple at the top. That difference is because because Earth’s auroras are dominated by nitrogen and oxygen molecules, while Saturn’s are dominated by hydrogen molecules.

While there is of course much scientific interest in these Saturnian light displays, they are also simply another wonderful planetary phenomena to be watched and enjoyed.

Other versions of the video of Saturn’s auroras can be seen here.

This article was first published on Examiner.com.

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What is this odd object in Saturn’s rings?

Peggy, as seen by Cassini on April 15, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Peggy, as seen by Cassini on April 15, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Saturn’s rings are one of the most phenomenal things ever seen in nature, and now there is a new puzzling little mystery in them called Peggy that scientists are trying to figure out.

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Cassini’s best-ever view of Saturn’s amazing hexagon

Still image from the movie sequence taken by Cassini of the colourful hexagon-shaped jet stream in Saturn’s atmosphere above the north pole. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton University

Still image from the movie sequence taken by Cassini of the colourful hexagon-shaped jet stream in Saturn’s atmosphere above the north pole. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton University

The solar system is full of many planets and moons, each with their own unique characteristics and features, some of which have never been seen anywhere else. One such oddity is found on Saturn – a giant hexagon-shaped jet stream surrounding the planet’s north pole. It is a natural feature in Saturn’s atmosphere, although the near-perfect six-sided formation might make you look twice. Now, the Cassini spacecraft has taken the best-ever images of this hexagon, it was announced yesterday.

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Stunning new image from Cassini of Saturn – and Mars, Earth and Venus too!

Beautiful panoramic view of Saturn, some of its moons, and even some of the inner planets including Earth, as imaged by Cassini on July 19, 2013 as part of The Day the Earth Smiled event. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Beautiful panoramic view of Saturn, some of its moons, and even some of the inner planets including Earth, as imaged by Cassini on July 19, 2013 as part of The Day the Earth Smiled event. Click on image for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

The Cassini spacecraft has taken another stunning new panoramic image, released yesterday, showing Saturn and its rings in all of their glory. It has done this before, including ones showing the Earth and Moon in the far distance, as tiny specks of light. But this new image is even better; not only does it again show Saturn and its rings beautifully backlit against the Sun in natural color, but this one also shows Mars and Venus, as well as the Earth and Moon!

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Amazing view of Saturn from above

Saturn as seen from above by the Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Saturn as seen from above by the Cassini spacecraft. Click image for larger version.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Gordan Ugarkovic

This stunning view of Saturn is one that can never be seen from Earth; it was taken by the Cassini spacecraft, still orbiting the huge ringed planet, from high above the equatorial plane on October 10, 2013. Only in such a view can the planet itself be seen as separate from the surrounding rings. This composite image was made from 36 individual images. Beautiful!

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Our home the Earth – as seen from Saturn and Mercury

Earth as seen by Cassini on July 19, 2013 - the tiny blue speck in the distance below Saturn's rings in this view. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI / Jason Major

Earth as seen by the Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013 – the tiny blue speck in the distance below Saturn’s rings in this view. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI / Jason Major

Last Friday, a remarkable thing happened, which received a lot of publicity, especially for space fans: the Earth had its photo taken – from Saturn! The Cassini spacecraft took the images, which were used for The Day the Earth Smiled event, showing the Earth as a very tiny blue speck in the distance, with Saturn and its rings looming in the foreground. Zooming in closer, the Moon can also be seen. How cool is that? But that’s not all… although it didn’t seem to get as much attention, the Earth and Moon also had their picture taken from Mercury, by the MESSENGER  spacecraft, on the same day!

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