A Look Back At Cassini’s Missions: Saturn and Its Moons

It’s been a long trip and now, Cassini’s final countdown has begun.

Cassini-Huygens was launched back on October 15, 1992. It’s equipped with two main parts, the Cassini – which is the Saturn orbiter, and Huygens the lander for the moon Titan. The names are in honor of two astronomers, Giovanni Cassini and Christiaan Huygens, who made various discoveries about Saturn and its moons.

“Through the brilliance of Saturn’s rings, Cassini caught a glimpse of a far-away planet and its moon. At a distance of just under 900 million miles, Earth shines bright among the many stars in the sky, distinguished by its bluish tint. Learn more about how and why this image was taken at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/multimedia/pia17171.html.”

On December 25, 2004, Huygens separated from Cassini and later on successfully landed on Titan on January 14, 2005. Cassini has continued orbiting Saturn, transmitting data and will continue to do so until it’s destroyed as it enters Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15, 2017.
The vast data Cassini has provided us on its many flybys has opened our knowledge not only on Saturn but on many of its moons. Ranging from sizes as small as a football stadium to no bigger than the planet Mercury, with different textures, colors, and composition.

Check out what Cassini learned from Saturn’s moons here.

And explore everything about all of Saturn’s moons here.

“This stunning false-color view of Saturn’s moon Hyperion reveals crisp details across the strange, tumbling moon’s surface. Differences in color could represent differences in the composition of surface materials. The view was obtained during Cassini’s close flyby on Sept. 26, 2005.”

Cassini has given us the opportunity to view the impressive transformation Saturn went as it transitions from winter to summer during its Equinox Mission and the ongoing Solstice Mission. Cassini captured storms on Titan as well as Saturn where they encircled the planet and noticed changes occurring suddenly and at specific latitudes.

Enceladus is a world divided. To the north, we see copious amounts of craters and evidence of the many impacts the moon has suffered in its history. However, to the south, we see a smoother body with wrinkles due to geologic activity.

We were able to see Mima’s terrain bombarded with craters and most especially the one large crater, Herschel, made most likely by a huge impact. Scientists were surprised, such impact had not destroyed Mima. Hershel is 139 kilometers (86 miles) across and the central peak is 8 kilometers (5 miles ) high.
Enceladus’ surface shows how geological activity affects a planet. Its northern hemisphere is mostly covered with crates but on its southern hemisphere the geological activity smoothes off craters leaving it a little wrinkly. Between rough and soft areas one can the craters becoming less prominent.

Check out more interesting facts about Saturn’s moons here.

Take a look at NASA’s The Grand Finale Toolkit to learn more about Cassini and its missions.

You can explore Cassini’s timeline here from 2000 to 2017.

Resources for Educators:

  1. https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/science/overview/
  2. https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/jpl/pia20523/the-big-one
  3. https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/jpl/pia20524/dichotomy