Saturn’s clouds have roots deeper inside the planet’s atmosphere than scientists previously thought, and Saturn’s rings — now believed to have formed in the last 200 million years — appear to be raining organic molecules down on the planet, according to observations made by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft last year in the final weeks of its mission.
A thrilling ride is about to begin for NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Engineers have been pumping up the probe’s orbit around Saturn this year to increase its tilt with respect to the planet’s equator and rings. And on 30 November, following a gravitational nudge from Saturn’s moon Titan, Cassini will enter the first phase of the mission’s dramatic endgame.
After more than 12 years studying Saturn, its rings and moons, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has entered the final year of its epic voyage. The Grand Finale will come on 15 September 2017 as Cassini dives into Saturn’s cloud tops, where friction with the atmosphere will cause the spacecraft to burn up like a meteor.
You might think that, in the rings of Saturn, more opaque areas contain a greater concentration of material than places where the rings seem more transparent. But this intuition does not always apply, according to a recent study of the rings using data from NASA’s Cassini mission. The research also suggests that the planet’s brightest B ring could be a few hundred million years old instead of a few billion.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has begun transmitting data and images from the mission’s 22nd and final close flyby of Saturn’s active moon Enceladus on Saturday, 19 December. Cassini has made so many breathtaking discoveries about this icy moon, its geologic activity and global ocean that lies beneath its icy crust, yet so much more remains to be done to determine if this tiny ocean world could harbour life.
NASA’s Cassini mission scientists were watching closely when the Sun set on Saturn’s rings in August 2009. It was the equinox — one of two times in the Saturnian year when the Sun illuminates the planet’s enormous ring system edge-on — providing an extraordinary opportunity for the spacecraft to observe short-lived changes that reveal details about the nature of the rings.
Like graffiti sprayed by an unknown artist, unexplained narrow, arc-shaped, reddish streaks are visible on the surface of Saturn’s icy moon Tethys in new, enhanced-colour images from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. The red arcs are among the most unusual colour features on Saturn’s moons to be revealed by Cassini’s cameras.