By mid-September, we will stop hearing back from Cassini for the first – and final – time.
NASA’s space probe Cassini-Huygens, which has been studying Saturn and its moons for the past 13 years, will have to call it a day by mid-September – but not before sharing its valuable findings of the second-largest planet and evidence of life on its moons, Titan and Enceladus, reported Emma Grey Ellis for the Wired.
The focus of Cassini’s mission was Saturn, but the moons stole the show. Scientists said the 20-year space journey of the mission changed the way the world looked at the moons. Linda Spilker, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Cassini’s project scientist, said: “Titan and Enceladus were the stars of the show.”
“One of the first things we see was the important, unexpected chemistry going on in Titan’s upper atmosphere,” says Hunter Waite, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute. “It’s a prodigious source of organic materials, part of the little checklist of items that lead to habitability.”
The probe’s findings suggested Earth’s and Titan’s climates might have more in common than previously known. “Titan is the once and future Earth,” says Lunine.
The probe, which will be collecting data right till the end of its journey, discovered complex organic materials like methane lakes, liquid oceans and hydrothermal reactions on Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus – hinting at strong signs of habitability. The evidence of life on the two moons warrants another mission—this time with enhanced capability to pick up things like fatty and amino acids, or even bring back samples of the methane lakes on the two moons.
Cassini’s other unexpected scientific achievements are Enceladus, its geysers and its liquid water ocean. It also spent a lot of time stumbling over hints of extraterrestrial life.
While space fans cannot wait to hear about Cassini’s wealth of data scientists will soon start sifting through, the space probe itself will sink into the unfamiliar space between Saturn and its rings.
And in September, we will stop hearing back from Cassini for the first – and final – time.