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Paper: The Scientific Achievements of the Cassini-Huygens Mission
Volume: 513, Serendipities in the Solar System and Beyond
Page: 131
Authors: Spilker, L. J.
Abstract: Discoveries from the Cassini-Huygens mission have revolutionized our understanding of Saturn, its complex ring system, the incredible assortment of moons and the planet's dynamic magnetic environment. The robotic spacecraft arrived at Saturn in 2004 after a 7-year flight from Earth, dropped a European Space Agency (ESA) parachuted probe named Huygens to study the atmosphere and surface of Saturn's big moon Titan, and commenced making astonishing discoveries. NASA's Cassini spacecraft explored the Saturn system for over 13 years, finally vaporizing in Saturn's atmosphere on 15 September 2017 to protect the ocean worlds, Enceladus and Titan, where it discovered potential habitats for life. During those 13 years in orbit around Saturn, the Cassini-Huygens mission made some amazing discoveries and revealed the breathtaking beauty of the Saturn system. Some of Cassini's most surprising scientific discoveries came from encounters with Saturn's intriguing moons. Those discoveries include icy jets emanating from the south pole of tiny Enceladus, a moon that harbors a subsurface global ocean and hydrothermal activity. On giant Titan, methane rain carves river channels and fills lakes and seas with hydrocarbons, mixed with complex pre-biotic chemicals that form in its atmosphere and rain to the surface. These discoveries have fundamentally altered many of our concepts of where life might be found in our own solar system and beyond. Some of Cassini's other amazing findings include a myriad of three-dimensional structures in the dynamic rings driven by interactions with Saturn's moons and interior; a giant Saturn storm that circled the entire planet for most of 2011, while a long-lived hexagonal jet stream discovered by Voyager in 1981 continues to encircle the north pole. Cassini solved the mystery of Iapetus' dual bright-dark surface, while uncovering another: the true rotation rate of Saturn's interior, thought to be precisely determined by Pioneer 11 and the Voyagers, remains unknown. Cassini's findings at Saturn have also fundamentally altered many of our concepts of how planets form around other stars. This flagship mission was a cooperative undertaking by NASA, ESA, and the Italian space agency (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI)).
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