In April, the science group looked at the Cassini space probe and all that it has achieved since it was launched in 1997.
This mission has been amazingly successful and all 12 instruments on board have returned a daily stream of data since it arrived at Saturn in 2004. The mission was planned to end in 2008, but it has been extended three times. It will finally finish in September 2017, when the spacecraft will be destroyed by crashing it into the planet. This is to avoid any possible contamination of the moons Enceladus or Titan, which could have the beginnings of life on them.
Since its arrival, Cassini has orbited Saturn more than 200 times and has returned over 300,000 images, some of them quite stunning, like this famous one of Saturn backlit by the Sun.
Titan, which is bigger than the planet Mercury, is found to have rivers and lakes of liquid methane, methane rain, hydrocarbon sand dunes and an internal liquid water-ammonia ocean. These are some of the lakes:
In 2005, everyone was taken by surprise when images came back of plumes of ice emanating from the moon Enceladus. The spray contains salt and complex organic chemicals and it feeds into the E-ring around Saturn.
The famous rings of Saturn have been studied in detail and found to be very dynamic. Small moons and ring particles constantly jostle and collide with each other, and waves and jets form and dissipate.
In 2010 a great storm began to form at Saturn’s north pole with a strange hexagonal shape and a huge hurricane at its centre.
There is more, much more to find out about Cassini’s mission, the most successful and exciting mission of recent times. Just go to the NASA website. Between now and September 2017, the spacecraft will fly more and more daring orbits, venturing in between the planet and its inner rings before it finally falls silent as it crashes to oblivion.