From the ABC 7 Weather team

Cassini Mission: Newest Saturn Developments

May 2, 2013 - 05:00 AM
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Some incredible images lately from Saturn, including a hurricane-like feature on the planet. Find out more on the mission and check out these great pictures.

 

NASA's Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn began on October 15, 1997 when the spaceship launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.  By June 30, 2004, Cassini entered orbit around Saturn to further explore the ringed planet. 

The first mission ended in 2008, but was then was extended - the Cassini Equinox mission - through September 2010.  That mission, too, was extended and the Cassini Solstice mission will continue through September 2017.  

"We're looking at a string of remarkable discoveries -- about Saturn's magnificent rings, its amazing moons, its dynamic magnetosphere and about Titan's surface and atmosphere," says Dr. Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist. "Some of the mission highlights so far include discovering that Titan has Earth-like processes and that the small moon Enceladus has a hot-spot at its southern pole, jets on the surface that spew out ice crystals and evidence of liquid water beneath its surface."

Back in October 2012, Cassini captured a fantastic, rare image of the planet.  The spacecraft was perfectly positioned in front of Saturn with the sun directly behind the planet.  The result is a uniquely backlit image of Saturn.  What really stands out are Saturn's rings, which scientists have been studying closely, as well as the atmosphere phenomena. 

An image that was just recently released highlights the storms at Saturn's north pole.  The bright red swirl in the middle is a hurricane-like structure (described more below).  The yellow hexagonal feature surrounding the central vortex is the planet's jet stream.  The orange mini-swirls within the yellow colored jet are low-lying clouds.  The bright teal on the outside of image are Saturn's rings.  These are false-colored images, but really make the features pop.

Here's a tighter shot of the hurricane on Saturn.  The spinning vortex resembles a giant rose.  Scientists have learned the eye of the hurricane on Saturn is 20 times larger than the average size of a hurricane eye on Earth (1,250 miles wide on Saturn).  Scientists have also measured cloud speeds as fast as 330 miles per hours.

Keep updated with the Cassini mission through the NASA link. Here's a neat timeline that will also give you Cassini milestones from 1997 through the projected completion in September 2017.

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