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Topic: Saturn

NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft continues dives between Saturn and it’s Rings

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – As NASA’s Cassini spacecraft makes its unprecedented series of weekly dives between Saturn and its rings, scientists are finding — so far — that the planet’s magnetic field has no discernible tilt. This surprising observation, which means the true length of Saturn’s day is still unknown, is just one of several early insights from the final phase of Cassini’s mission, known as the Grand Finale.

Other recent science highlights include promising hints about the structure and composition of the icy rings, along with high-resolution images of the rings and Saturn’s atmosphere.

Recent images of features in Saturn's C ring called "plateaus" reveal a streaky texture that is very different from the textures of the regions around them. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

Recent images of features in Saturn’s C ring called “plateaus” reveal a streaky texture that is very different from the textures of the regions around them. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

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NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft’s 20 Year Mission to come to a close

 

Written by Steven Siceloff
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationFlorida – As NASA’s Cassini spacecraft spends its last few weeks in orbit around Saturn before making a controlled impact with the planet in what NASA dubbed Cassini’s “Grand Finale,” some of those who helped launch the mission 20 years ago are thrilled with the success of the massive probe they helped dispatch to one of the solar system’s most intriguing worlds.

“There’s just a real sense of fulfillment associated with being part of a launch team, particularly something as big as Cassini and as complicated as Cassini is and the whole makeup of the whole Cassini team,” said Ray Lugo, launch director for Cassini. “It was a big community of folks and everybody had to do their part to make sure that mission got off right.”

The planet Saturn as seen from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. (NASA)

The planet Saturn as seen from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. (NASA)

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NASA studies possible missions to Uranus and Neptune

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – A NASA-led and NASA-sponsored study of potential future missions to the mysterious “ice giant” planets Uranus and Neptune has been released — the first in a series of mission studies NASA will conduct in support of the next Planetary Science Decadal Survey.

The results of this and future studies will be used as the Decadal Survey deliberates on NASA’s planetary science priorities from 2022-2032. The study identifies the scientific questions an ice giant mission should address, and discusses various instruments, spacecraft, flight-paths and technologies that could be used.

Left: Arriving at Uranus in 1986, Voyager 2 observed a bluish orb with subtle features. A haze layer hid most of the planet's cloud features from view. Right: This image of Neptune was produced from Voyager 2 and shows the Great Dark Spot and its companion bright smudge. (Left: NASA/JPL-Caltech - Right: NASA)

Left: Arriving at Uranus in 1986, Voyager 2 observed a bluish orb with subtle features. A haze layer hid most of the planet’s cloud features from view. Right: This image of Neptune was produced from Voyager 2 and shows the Great Dark Spot and its companion bright smudge. (Left: NASA/JPL-Caltech – Right: NASA)

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NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft finds evidence that Saturn’s Moon Enceladus axis may have shifted

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Saturn’s icy, ocean-bearing moon Enceladus may have tipped over in the distant past, according to recent research from NASA’s Cassini mission. Researchers with the mission found evidence that the moon’s spin axis — the line through the north and south poles — has reoriented, possibly due to a collision with a smaller body, such as an asteroid.

Examining the moon’s features, the team showed that Enceladus appears to have tipped away from its original axis by about 55 degrees — more than halfway toward rolling completely onto its side.

Working with image data from NASA's Cassini mission, researchers have found evidence that Saturn's moon Enceladus may have tipped over, reorienting itself so that terrain closer to its original equator was relocated to the poles. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Cornell University)

Working with image data from NASA’s Cassini mission, researchers have found evidence that Saturn’s moon Enceladus may have tipped over, reorienting itself so that terrain closer to its original equator was relocated to the poles. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Cornell University)

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NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft observes Saturn’s Solstice

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Cassini spacecraft still has a few months to go before it completes its mission in September, but the veteran Saturn explorer reaches a new milestone today. Saturn’s solstice — that is, the longest day of summer in the northern hemisphere and the shortest day of winter in the southern hemisphere — arrives today for the planet and its moons.

The Saturnian solstice occurs about every 15 Earth years as the planet and its entourage slowly orbit the sun, with the north and south hemispheres alternating their roles as the summer and winter poles.

These natural color views from Cassini show how the color of Saturn's north-polar region changed between June 2013 and April 2017, as the northern hemisphere headed toward summer solstice. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton Univ.)

These natural color views from Cassini show how the color of Saturn’s north-polar region changed between June 2013 and April 2017, as the northern hemisphere headed toward summer solstice. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton Univ.)

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NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes discover Planet with Hydrogen, Helium Atmosphere

 

Written by Elizabeth Zubritsky
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationGreenbelt, MD –  A study combining observations from NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes reveals that the distant planet HAT-P-26b has a primitive atmosphere composed almost entirely of hydrogen and helium. Located about 437 light-years away, HAT-P-26b orbits a star roughly twice as old as the sun.

The analysis is one of the most detailed studies to date of a “warm Neptune,” or a planet that is Neptune-sized and close to its star. The researchers determined that HAT-P-26b’s atmosphere is relatively clear of clouds and has a strong water signature, although the planet is not a water world. This is the best measurement of water to date on an exoplanet of this size.

The atmosphere of the distant "warm Neptune" HAT-P-26b, illustrated here, is unexpectedly primitive, composed primarily of hydrogen and helium. (NASA/GSFC)

The atmosphere of the distant “warm Neptune” HAT-P-26b, illustrated here, is unexpectedly primitive, composed primarily of hydrogen and helium. (NASA/GSFC)

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NASA releases Video showing Cassini Spacecraft’s trip across Saturn

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – A new movie sequence of images from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft shows the view as the spacecraft swooped over Saturn during the first of its Grand Finale dives between the planet and its rings on April 26th.

The movie comprises one hour of observations as the spacecraft moved southward over Saturn. It begins with a view of the swirling vortex at the planet’s north pole, then heads past the outer boundary of the hexagon-shaped jet stream and beyond.

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NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft discovers little dust between Saturn and it’s Rings

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – As NASA’s Cassini spacecraft prepares to shoot the narrow gap between Saturn and its rings for the second time in its Grand Finale, Cassini engineers are delighted, while ring scientists are puzzled, that the region appears to be relatively dust-free. This assessment is based on data Cassini collected during its first dive through the region on April 26th.

With this information in hand, the Cassini team will now move forward with its preferred plan of science observations.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is shown diving through the gap between Saturn and its rings in this artist's depiction. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is shown diving through the gap between Saturn and its rings in this artist’s depiction. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft completes voyage between Saturn and it’s Rings

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is back in contact with Earth after its successful first-ever dive through the narrow gap between the planet Saturn and its rings on April 26th, 2017.

The spacecraft is in the process of beaming back science and engineering data collected during its passage, via NASA’s Deep Space Network Goldstone Complex in California’s Mojave Desert.

The DSN acquired Cassini’s signal at 11:56pm PDT on April 26th, 2017 (1:56am CDT on April 27th) and data began flowing at 12:01am PDT (2:01am CDT) on April 27th.

These unprocessed image shows features in Saturn's atmosphere from closer than ever before. The views were captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during its first Grand Finale dive past the planet on April 26, 2017. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

These unprocessed image shows features in Saturn’s atmosphere from closer than ever before. The views were captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft during its first Grand Finale dive past the planet on April 26, 2017. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

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NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft set to dive between Saturn and it’s Rings

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is set to make its first dive through the narrow gap between Saturn and its rings on April 26th, 2017.

Because that gap is a region no spacecraft has ever explored, Cassini will use its dish-shaped high-gain antenna (13 feet or 4 meters across) as a protective shield while passing through the ring plane. No particles larger than smoke particles are expected, but the precautionary measure is being taken on the first dive.

This artist's rendering shows NASA's Cassini spacecraft above Saturn's northern hemisphere, heading toward its first dive between Saturn and its rings on April 26, 2017. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s rendering shows NASA’s Cassini spacecraft above Saturn’s northern hemisphere, heading toward its first dive between Saturn and its rings on April 26, 2017. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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