Ray, Trina L. Cassini Mission, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California.
Spilker, Linda Cassini Mission, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California.
Sollazzo, Claudio Huygens Mission, European Space Agency.
Last reviewed:February 2019
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- Investigating Saturn's rotation
- Storms on Saturn
- Observations of Saturn's rings
- Titan observations by Cassini orbiter
- Huygens probe release and mission
- Enceladus observations
- Other notable moon observations
- Mission's end
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
The first interplanetary orbiter and lander mission dedicated to the study of Saturn and its moons. A collaborative mission by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), ESA (European Space Agency), and ISA (Italian Space Agency), the international Cassini-Huygens spacecraft launched on October 15, 1997, on a 7-year, 3-billion-kilometer (2-billion-mile) journey to reach Saturn. On July 1, 2004, the spacecraft became the first to enter into permanent orbit around the giant, ringed planet (Fig. 1). During Cassini's third orbit, the spacecraft executed a series of maneuvers setting up the release of the Huygens probe for an impact trajectory with Saturn's largest moon, Titan. Huygens parachuted through the moon's atmosphere and touched down on January 14, 2005—the only landing ever attempted and completed in the outer solar system. Overall, Cassini completed 294 orbits in the Saturnian system before mission's end on September 15, 2017. The orbiter's data have allowed for a detailed understanding of the structure and dynamics of the planet's famous ring system. Among the mission's other important advances were plumes erupting from Saturn's moon Enceladus, liquid bodies on Titan's surface, and the finding of hurricanes at Saturn's poles, including a giant hexagonal cloud formation at the northern pole. Cassini also investigated Saturn's rotation period, solved mysteries pertaining to various Saturnian satellites, and discovered seven new moons. See also: Astrobiology; Completion of the Cassini mission to Saturn; Enceladus; Planet; Satellite (astronomy); Saturn; Solar system; Space probe; Titan
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