Cassini Spacecraft Probes Titan In Flyby Mission

By  //  October 6, 2013

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Exploring The Unknown

(VIDEO: tvspace)

BREVARD COUNTY • CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA — Scientists are carefully studying images of Saturn’s largest moon sent from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft last week during its latest flyby of Titan.

The Cassini spacecraft was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in 1997 and first reached Saturn in 2004. (Image courtesy NASA)

Cassini was able to map out areas on Titan’s northwest quadrant June 7 using radar imagery, ultraviolet spectrographs and infrared technology.

In a low altitude north polar flyby some 596 miles above the moon’s surface at a speed of 13,000 mph examining Titan’s magnetosphere, Cassini relayed a wealth of data, photographs and sensory information back to earth about the diffusion of the moon’s external magnetic field at varying altitudes and from high solar zenith angles.

Cassini’s specialized radar conducted altimetry studies near Titan’s equator, including the bright Adiri region.

In addition, Cassini’s imaging science subsystem monitored Titan for an extra day to track its unusual polar cloud formations.

TITAN FIRST DISCOVERED IN 1655

Titan was first discovered by Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens in 1655.

Unlike the moon of the earth, Titan’s contains an atmosphere made up of nitrogen, which produces unique cloud formations  of methane, ethane and smog.

The surface temperature of Titan is pretty chilly though. It averages in the range of about -289 degrees Fahrenheit.

Soon Casssini will enter a solstice mission for Saturn to observe seasonal changes in the Saturn planetary and lunar systems during the northern summer solstice time period and another flyby of Titan will take place July 22.

A new view of Saturn’s rings was taken by Cassini in 2006. (Image courtesy NASA)

SATURN IS THE SECOND LARGEST PLANET IN OUR SOLAR SYSTEM

Saturn is actually the second largest planet in our solar system, with only Jupiter being larger.

If lined up, more than a total of nine planets the size of earth would fit across Saturn.

It is composed mostly of hydrogen and helium and while Saturn does contain much heavier materials in its core, the planet does not have s solid surface.

Saturn’s rings are not solid either, being particles of ice, dust and rock.

Ring particles may be as tiny as grains of sand, but some are as tall as Mount Everest and others are more than half a mile wide.

In all Saturn has a has 62 confirmed moons and 53 of them have been named.

A composite image of nine photos taken by Cassini spacecraft on its first approach to Titan in 2004 reveals surface variations and bright clouds near its south pole. (Image courtesy NASA)

THE CASSINI SPACECRAFT

The Cassini spacecraft was designed over the course of two decades to be able to tell scientists as much as possible about them mysterious ringed planet and its moons.

Cassini itself contains thousands of scientific instruments, cameras and microwave sensing devices to monitor wavelengths, calculate measurements, measure magnetic fields and to detect the composition of dust particles, plasma and radio waves.

The spacecraft was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in 1997 and reached Saturn in 2004.

On Jan. 14, 2005, the Huygens portion of the Cassini spacecraft landed on Titan and collected data becoming the first craft to accomplish a successful landing in the outer solar system.

It has not been without problems though.

Earlier this month, Cassini’s plasma spectrometer had to be turned off when a circuit breaker on the spacecraft  underwent unexpected voltage shifting. NASA is hoping to rectify that situation later this summer.

The Cassini mission is expected to end in 2017 with an impact of the spacecraft into Saturn.


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