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October 24, 2007

Evidence of \’shattered moon\’ found inside rings of Saturn

Evidence of ‘shattered moon’ found inside rings of Saturn

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The largest propeller seen here is noted in the white dashed box, and it indicates the presence of a 150-meter (490-foot) moonlet.
Image: NASA.

Scientists say that floating inside Saturn’s rings are pieces of what they believe to be a “shattered moon,” according to images captured by NASA’s spacecraft Cassini–Huygens.

The scientists from the University of Colorado at Boulder looked at the images which were captured in 2004, and found what they call “moonlets” or large pieces ranging from the size of a stadium to a semi truck, of what they say are the remains of a large moon which was likely destroyed when a comet or asteroid slammed into it.

“This is the first evidence of a moonlet belt in any of Saturn’s rings. We have firmly established these moonlets exist in a relatively narrow region of the “A” ring, and the evidence indicates they are remnants of a larger moon that was shattered by a meteoroid or comet,” said one of the researchers, Miodrag Sremcevic.

The Cassini spacecraft captures eight new propeller-like features within Saturn’s A ring in what may be the propeller “hot zone” of Saturn’s rings. Propeller features form around small moonlets that are not massive enough to clear out ring material, but are still able to pull smaller ring particles into a shape reminiscent of an airplane propeller. Scientists believe that propellers represent moonlet wakes, which are denser than the surrounding ring material and appear bright in the images. The length of the belt in which the moonlets were discovered is almost 2,000 miles long.

Scientists estimate that the size of the moon was relative to the size of Pan, the innermost moon of Saturn. It only measures 20 miles wide at its widest point.



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September 10, 2007

Cassini space probe to flyby Saturn\’s moon Iapetus

Cassini space probe to flyby Saturn’s moon Iapetus

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Monday, September 10, 2007

File:Iapetus mosaic color.jpg

Saturn’s moon Iapetus
Image: NASA.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

The Cassini space probe will make a close flyby today of Saturn’s third largest moon Iapetus. For reasons that are not well-understood, one side of Iapetus is much darker than the other side. Explanations for the dark side include meteorite deposition as well as possible debris from other moons of Saturn.

Also, the Cassini probe had previously discovered an equatorial ridge on Iapetus during a flyby in 2004 which compounds Iapetus’ already non-spherical shape. The origin of the ridge is also not well understood and scientists have proposed a variety of explanations for its presence. This second flyby will be approximately 1,600 km from the surface and will be about 100 times closer than the previous flyby. Scientists hope that the detailed observation using radar and photography will provide insight into Iapetus’s odd shape and coloring.

Iapetus was first discovered by Giovanni Cassini, for whom the probe is named, in 1671. He was also responsible for discovering that one side of Iapetus was substantially darker than the other.

This flyby will likely be the last close flyby of one of Saturn’s moons by the Cassini probe.



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March 13, 2007

Saturn\’s moon Enceladus may host \”internal life\”

Saturn’s moon Enceladus may host “internal life”

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Plumes of icy material extend above the southern polar region of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, as imaged by the Cassini spacecraft in January 2005.

Scientists at NASA say that new satellite images of Saturn’s moon Enceladus taken in 2005, has shown that the moon has begun to spew geysers which contain liquid water, and that the internal heat produced by the moon’s core may be able to host life below the icy surface, but scientists also stress that life has not yet been found on the moon.

Scientists say that the heat source producing the geysers is “organic” and that the material used to spew them is caused by the decaying of radioactive material from inside the moon.

“Deep inside Enceladus, our model indicates we’ve got an organic brew, a heat source and liquid water, all key ingredients for life. And while no one is claiming that we have found life by any means, we probably have evidence for a place that might be hospitable to life,” said Dennis Matson, a scientist for the Cassini project.

In a new model created by NASA scientists, data shows that Enceladus might have been created by aluminum and iron isotopes which have begun to decay causing large amounts of heat to build up in the moon and over billions of years later, the icy mass has began to melt near the moon’s core, causing the water to spew into outer space.

“Enceladus is a very small body, and it’s made almost entirely of ice and rock. The puzzle is how the moon developed a warm core. The only way to achieve such high temperatures at Enceladus is through the very rapid decay of some radioactive species,” said Dr. Julie Castillo, the lead scientist developing the new model at the Jet Propulsion laboratory or JPL.

“The decomposition of those isotopes – over a period of about 7 million years – would produce enormous amounts of heat. This would result in the consolidation of rocky material at the core surrounded by a shell of ice. According to the theory, the remaining, more slowly decaying radioactivity in the core could continue to warm and melt the moon’s interior for billions of years, along with tidal forces from Saturn’s gravitational tug,” said a statement on NASA”s website.

Data from Cassini’s ion and neutral mass spectrometer further shows that the natural building blocks of life are also present within Enceladus. The results show that carbon dioxide, acetylene, methane, propane and nitrogen, the basic building blocks for life, are all present within the moon.

“The team concludes that so far, all the findings and the hot start model indicate that a warm, organic-rich mixture was produced below the surface of Enceladus and might still be present today, making the moon a promising kitchen for the cooking of primordial soup,” added the statement.

Cassini will make a flyby on Enceladus in march of 2008. The mission will “measure the gas emanating from the plume,” ended the statement.

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January 4, 2007

Saturn\’s moon Titan hosts liquid lakes and rivers

Saturn’s moon Titan hosts liquid lakes and rivers

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Thursday, January 4, 2007

This colorized radar view from Cassini shows lakes on Titan. Color intensity is proportional to how much radar brightness is returned.

The Cassini Spacecraft has taken images from July 22, 2006 that show rivers and lakes present on Saturn’s moon Titan.

“At the time we first announced it, we were like, ‘Well, we think these are probably lakes,’ but that was about our level of confidence. I would say at this point, we’ve analyzed the data to the extent that we feel very confident that they are liquid-filled lakes,” said University College London and Caltech and Cassini team member, Ellen Stofan.

The rivers and lakes are likely to contain ethane or methane in a liquid form, but the liquids are said to “act like water” and are “clear” like water. Both ethane and methane are organic gases on Earth.

“Dark surfaces are smooth and most likely liquid, rock, ice or organics. More than 75 radar-dark patches or lakes were seen, ranging from 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) to more than 70 kilometers (43 miles) across. Some lakes appear partly dry, while others seem liquid-filled. Some of the partly filled lakes may never have filled fully, or may have partly evaporated at some point in the past. The dry lakes have margins or rims and a radar brightness similar to the rest of the surrounding terrain, making them appear devoid of liquid,” said a statement by NASA on their website.

“It’s going to behave like water. It’s transparent just the way water is. So if you were standing by the shoreline, you would be able to see down to whatever pebbles or gunk that was on the bottom. As far as we know, there is only one planetary body that displays more dynamism than Titan, and its name is Earth,” added Stofan.

Cassini will be performing at least 22 more flybys of Titan. The next flyby is expected to take place this month.

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November 11, 2006

Massive hurricane spotted on Saturn

Massive hurricane spotted on Saturn – Wikinews, the free news source

Massive hurricane spotted on Saturn

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

These images of Saturn’s south pole, taken by two different instruments on Cassini, show the hurricane-like storm swirling

NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft has captured images of a massive hurricane on the planet Saturn. The storm is located on Saturn’s south pole. This type of event has never been observed on another planet except for Earth.

“It looks like a hurricane, but it doesn’t behave like a hurricane. Whatever it is, we’re going to focus on the eye of this storm and find out why it’s there,” said Doctor Andrew Ingersoll, a member of Cassini’s imaging team at the California Institute of Technology located in Pasadena.

The storm is approximately 5,000 miles across or roughly two-thirds the diameter of Earth and is stationary. The winds in the storm, which are blowing clockwise are reaching about 350 miles per hour and two spiral arms of clouds are extending from the center of the storm. Scientists say that the storm’s clouds are anywhere between three to five times taller and larger than any clouds found on Earth.

It is not known what has caused the storm to form.

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September 18, 2006

Ethane clouds found on Titan

Ethane clouds found on Titan – Wikinews, the free news source

Ethane clouds found on Titan

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Monday, September 18, 2006

The vast ethane cloud can be seen in all images as a reddish band just north of 50 degrees latitude.

The spacecraft Cassini-Huygens has discovered ethane clouds using the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer [VIMS] on Saturn’s moon, Titan. The spacecraft also suggested that ethane “rain” and “snow” may be falling from the clouds into liquid methane lakes.

“Our observations imply that surface deposits of ethane should be found specifically at the poles, rather than globally distributed across Titan’s disk as previously assumed. That may partially explain the lack of liquid ethane oceans and clouds at Titan’s middle and lower latitudes,” University of Arizona planetary scientist Caitlin Griffith in a statement on the Cassini-Huygens website.

“We think that ethane is raining or, if temperatures are cool enough, snowing on the north pole right now. When the seasons switch, we expect ethane to condense at the south pole during its winter,” added Griffith.

Cassini recently took pictures of what scientists call “lakes and oceans” on Titan and scientists now believe that the oceans, filled with methane, may also be “rich” with ethane.

“We now know that Titan’s surface is largely devoid of lakes and oceans. During the polar winters, we expect the lowlands to cradle methane lakes that are rich with ethane. Perhaps these are the lakes recently imaged by Cassini,” said Griffith.

VIMS first detected the clouds during flybys in December 2004 and September and August 2005.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

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July 30, 2006

Cassini photographs possible lakes on Saturn\’s moon, Titan

Cassini photographs possible lakes on Saturn’s moon, Titan

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Two radar images from Cassini that show very strong evidence for hydrocarbon lakes on Titan. Dark patches, which resemble terrestrial lakes, seem to be sprinkled all over the high latitudes surrounding Titan’s north pole.

Cassini, a European and United States space probe, has taken pictures of what appear to be lakes on the surface of Saturn’s moon, Titan. If the findings are confirmed, then Titan will be the only other planetary mass, other than Earth, to have liquid lakes on their surfaces. Some of the ‘lakes’ also contain channels that lead to and from them. The lakes are believed to have been formed by rainfall of liquid methane or ethane.

Some radar images of the lakes and channels leading to and from them, show areas of black, which indicate that there is no image to display and scientists say that it could mean the surface of the ‘lakes’ are very smooth and flat.

“What we see is darker than anything we’ve ever seen elsewhere on Titan. It was almost as though someone laid a bull’s-eye around the whole north pole of Titan, and Cassini sees these regions of lakes just like those we see on Earth,” said U.S. Geological Survey Cassini interdisciplinary scientist, Larry Soderblom.

So far scientists have found at least 12 lakes which range between 6 and 62 miles wide.

“It was a real potpourri,” said University of Arizona Cassini scientist, Jonathan Lunine.

“We’ve always believed Titan’s methane had to be maintained by liquid lakes or extensive underground ‘methanofers,’ the methane equivalent of aquifers. We can’t see methanofers but we can now say we’ve seen lakes ,” added Lunine.

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March 14, 2006

Geysers of water on one of Saturn\’s moons

Geysers of water on one of Saturn’s moons

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Enceladus seen from Voyager spacecraft

picture showing Saturn and Cassini

NASA has announced that the Cassini spacecraft has found what seem to be geysers spewing water on the moon Enceladus. The find raises the possibility of life on other planets, as liquid water is believed to be a requirement for life. “This marks the first time that scientists have seen evidence of water in liquid form so close to the surface on another body beyond Earth,” said Cassini scientist Torrence Johnson. Although life may be found on the moon, most scientists concede that if Enceladus does harbor life, it probably consists of microbes or other robust organisms capable of living in extreme conditions. This latest discovery shows that life in other parts of the universe may be more probable than previously thought.

“We realize that this is a radical conclusion — that we may have evidence for liquid water within a body so small and so cold,” said Dr. Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “However, if we are right, we have significantly broadened the diversity of solar system environments where we might possibly have conditions suitable for living organisms.”

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March 19, 2005

Cassini discovers Saturn moon atmosphere

Cassini discovers Saturn moon atmosphere

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Saturday, March 19, 2005

Cassini image of Enceladus

NASA’s Saturn exploration spacecraft, Cassini, has discovered an atmosphere about the moon Enceladus. This is the first such discovery by Cassini, other than Titan, of the presence of an atmosphere around a Saturn moon.

Enceladus’s gravity is too weak to hold an atmosphere around the planet, leading scientists to believe that volcanism, geysers, or gases escaping from the surface or the interior as a continuous source for the atmosphere.

The atmosphere was detected using a magnetometer during two close flybys of Enceladus on February 17 and March 9. The magnetometer is used to measure the magnitude and direction of magnetic fields surrounding Saturn and its moons. The magnetometer detected a bending of Saturn’s magnetic field around the moon, indicating the Saturnian plasma is being diverted away from an extended atmosphere. The observations from the Enceladus flybys are believed to be due to ionized water vapor.

“These new results from Cassini may be the first evidence of gases originating either from the surface or possibly from the interior of Enceladus,” said Dr. Michele Dougherty, principal investigator for the Cassini magnetometer and professor at Imperial College in London.

Scientists have suspected Enceladus as geologically active and a possible source of Saturn’s icy E ring. Enceladus is the most reflective object in the solar system, reflecting about 90 percent of the sunlight that hits it.

Cassini first arrived in Saturn orbit July 1, 2004, releasing the Huygens Titan probe on December 25, 2004 which landed on Titan January 14, 2005.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

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January 21, 2005

Methane Rain in Titan\’s Rivers

Methane Rain in Titan’s Rivers – Wikinews, the free news source

Methane Rain in Titan’s Rivers

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Friday, January 21, 2005

Images from the Huygens probe show that liquid methane flows through and into Titan’s rivers, channels, lakes, springs, and other as-yet-undiscovered bodies of liquid. Titan is Saturn’s largest moon, and the moon the Cassini-Huygens probe is inspecting.

The image (right) sent back from Titan via Huygens shows the terrain carved by the liquid methane. Deltas and rivers may be flowing with the substance.

The methane rain causes erosion to the planet’s land surface, carving out features like rivers in which the liquid methane and possibly other fluids flow.

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