Dr. Kevin R. Grazier pumped the audience with an overload of yummy-geek-goodness at the “Updates from Saturn and Titan” panel on Friday night.
The twenty-one foot tall, six ton Cassini spacecraft’s four-year-plan is to make seventy-four orbits with fifty-two flybys of seven of Saturn’s moons: Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione, Rhea, Titan, Hyperion, Iapetus, Phoebe (MET DR. THIP). The craft is proving so robust that the mission is being extended, and the NASA teams are brainstorming end-of-life scenarios involving a crash-down onto Saturn itself. How cool is that?
Grazier showed slides of Radar (Radio Detection and Ranging Instrument), ISS (Imaging Science Subsystem), and VIMS (Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer) images as well as orbital graphs and computer generated models of the Huygens probe landing on the surface of Titan.
A quick list of cool facts:
• Titan’s surface is orange; one impact crater shows a squared off pattern which provides evidence of tectonic activity; liquid water might be as close as thirty feet below the surface.
• Enceladus’s tiger-stripe fractures indicate flow and stress on the surface; its south pole has a large warm zone; plumes of ice crystals pulled from its surface by the E-ring provided evidence of possible liquid water, and thus a chance of life.
• Hyperion has dark material coating the floors of its impact craters. Watch for new information after Huygen’s fly-by on September 10, 2007.
For more information and images on Saturn and its moons, check out the NASA JPL website.
The Space Track (Summit, Marriott) is chock-full of fantastic science. Be sure to attend and absorb an hour of knowledge. It’s inspiring!