Reaching for Saturn
9 instances wider and 95 instances extra huge than Earth, Saturn is a hydrogen and helium behemoth that resides removed from our personal life-friendly patch of cosmic actual property. Saturn’s roiling, storm-filled ambiance, blustering 1,100 mph (1,770 km/h) equatorial winds, multitude of moons, and distinctive glittering rings — composed of trillions of unconnected, ice-encrusted particles — have captivated and intrigued astronomers for hundreds of years.
The truth is, two of these astronomers performed such an vital function in unveiling Saturn’s mysteries that they had been honored by identify with a landmark $3.26 billion mission.
Launch: Oct. 15, 1997 on a Titan IVB/Centaur rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida
Venus flybys: April 26, 1998, at 176 miles (234 km) and June 24, 1999, at 370 miles (600 km)
Earth flyby: Aug. 18, 1999, at 727 miles (1,170 km)
Jupiter flyby: Dec. 30, 2000, at 6 million miles (10 million km)
Saturn arrival: July 1, 2004 (June 30 in California)
Giovanni Domenico Cassini (1625-1712) was an Italian-born, French-naturalized engineer, mathematician, and astronomer. He first recognized a niche (the eponymous Cassini Division) between two of Saturn’s most distinguished rings. Cassini additionally went on to find 4 of Saturn’s moons, together with peculiar, two-toned Iapetus.
Cassini’s identify adorned the mission’s 22-foot-long (6.8-meter) NASA-built orbiter. The Cassini orbiter would in the end circle Saturn 294 instances between when it arrived on the fuel large in July 2004 (June 30 by the clocks at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California) and its Grand Finale in September 2017. Cassini scoured the planet in unequalled element utilizing a dozen devices, from seen, ultraviolet, and infrared sensors to radiometers, spectrometers, magnetometers, and a strong radar imager.
Dutch physicist, astronomer, and mathematician Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) was the namesake for an 9-foot-wide (2.7-meter) disk-shaped probe. The Huygens probe was constructed by the European Area Company and designed to be dropped into the thick, hydrocarbon-soup ambiance that cloaks Saturn’s largest moon, planet-sized Titan. (Titan is bigger than Mercury and practically the dimensions of Mars.) After parachuting by Titan’s smoggy clouds in January 2005, the Huygens probe and its suite of six devices triumphantly landed on a rocky floor by no means earlier than seen by humanity, below a glowering orange sky.
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