Brightened processed image of Saturn from Cassini to highlight the F ring

In the News

Next week, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will go where no spacecraft has gone before when it flies just past the edge of Saturn’s main rings. The maneuver is a first for the spacecraft, which has spent more than 12 years orbiting the ringed giant planet. And it’s part of a lead-up to a series of increasingly awesome feats that make up the mission’s “Grand Finale” ending with Cassini’s plunge into Saturn on Sept. 15, 2017.

How They’ll Do It

graphic showing Cassini's orbits

Cassini's ring-grazing orbits, which will take place from late Novemeber 2016 through April 2017, are shown here in tan. The blue lines represent the path that Cassini took in the time leading up to the new orbits during its extended solstice mission. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute | › Larger image

To prepare for the so-called “ring-grazing orbits,” which will bring the spacecraft within 56,000 miles (90,000 km) of Saturn, Cassini engineers have been slowly adjusting the spacecraft’s orbit since January. They do this by flying Cassini near Saturn’s large moon Titan. The moon’s gravity pulls on the spacecraft, changing its direction and speed.

On November 29, Cassini will use a big gravitational pull from Titan to get into an orbit that is closer to perpendicular with respect to the rings of Saturn and its equator. This orbit will send the spacecraft slightly higher above and below Saturn’s north and south poles, and allow it to get as close as the outer edge of the main rings – a region as of yet unexplored by Cassini.

This diagram shows Saturns ring-grazing and planet-grazing orbits

This graphic illustrates the Cassini spacecraft's trajectory, or flight path, during the final two phases of its mission. The view is toward Saturn as seen from Earth. The 20 ring-grazing orbits are shown in gray; the 22 grand finale orbits are shown in blue. The final partial orbit is colored orange. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute | › Larger image

Why It’s Important

Cassini’s ring-grazing orbits will allow scientists to see features in Saturn's rings, up close, that they’ve only been able to observe from afar. The spacecraft will get so close to the rings, in fact, that it will pass through the dusty edges of the F ring, Saturn’s narrow, outermost ring. At that distance, Cassini will be able to study the rings like never before.

Among the firsts will be a “taste test” of Saturn’s rings from the inside out, during which Cassini will sample the faint gases surrounding the rings as well as the particles that make up the F ring. Cassini will also capture some of the best high-resolution images of the rings, and our best views of the small moons Atlas, Pan, Daphnis and Pandora, which orbit near the rings' outer edges. Finally, the spacecraft will do reconnaissance work needed to safely carry out its next planned maneuver in April 2017, when Cassini is scheduled to fly through the 1,500-mile (2,350-kilometer) gap between Saturn and its rings.

› Read more about what we might learn from Cassini's ring-grazing orbits.

These orbits are a great example of scientific research in action. Much of what scientists will be seeing in detail during these ring-grazing orbits are features that, despite Cassini’s 12 years at Saturn, have remained a mystery. These new perspectives could help answer questions scientists have long puzzled over, but they will also certainly lead to new questions to add to our ongoing exploration of the ringed giant.

Teach It

Cassini Scientist for a Day Essay Contest 2016 graphic

As part of the Cassini Scientist for a Day Essay Contest, students in grades 5-12 will write an essay describing which of these three targets would provide the most interesting scientific results. › Learn more and enter

What better way to share in the excitement of Cassini’s exploration than to get students thinking like NASA scientists and writing about their own questions and curiosities?

NASA’s Cassini Scientist for a Day Essay Contest, open to students in grades 5-12, encourages students to do just that. Participants research three science and imaging targets and then write an essay on which target would provide the most interesting scientific results, explaining what they hope to learn from the selected target. Winners of the contest will be featured on NASA’s Solar System Exploration website and get an opportunity to speak with Cassini scientists and engineers via video conference in the spring.

More information, contest rules and videos can be found here.

The deadline to enter is Feb. 24, 2017.

Explore More

TAGS: Cassini, Saturn's Rings, Saturn, Grand Finale, Spacecraft, Missions, K-12, Lessons, Activities, Language Arts, Science, Essay Contest

  • Lyle Tavernier

Pi in the Sky 2 Infographic

UPDATE - March 16, 2015: The pi challenge answer key is now available for download.

In honor of the "Pi Day of the Century" (3/14/15), the Education Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has crafted another stellar math challenge to show students of all ages how NASA scientists and engineers use the mathematical constant pi.

The 2015 problem set -- available as a web infographic and printable handouts -- features four real-world, NASA math problems for students in grades 4 through 11, including: calculating the dizzying number of times a Mars rover's wheels have rotated in 11 years; finding the number of images it will take the Dawn spacecraft to map the entire surface of the dwarf planet Ceres (the first dwarf planet to be explored); learning the potential volume of water on Jupiter's moon Europa; and discovering what fraction of a radio beam from our most distant spacecraft reaches Earth.

The word problems, which were crafted by NASA/JPL education specialists with the help of scientists and engineers, give students insight into the real calculations space explorers use every day and a chance to see some of the real-world applications of the math they're learning in school.

"Pi in the Sky 2" Downloads:

TAGS: Pi Day, Infographics, Mars Rover, Dawn, Ceres, Europa, Voyager, K-12

  • Kim Orr

Pi in the Sky Infographic

UPDATE - March 17, 2014: The pi challenge answer key is now available for download.

In honor of everyone's favorite mathematical holiday, Pi Day, which celebrates the mathematical constant 3.14 on March 14, NASA/JPL Edu has crafted a set of stellar middle- and high-school math problems to show students that pi is more than just a fancy number.

Pi is all over our skies! It helps power our spacecraft, keeps our Mars rovers' wheels spinning, lets us peer beneath the clouds on Jupiter and gives us new perspectives on Earth. Take part in the fun and see if your classroom can solve some of the same problems that real NASA scientists and engineers do.

Each pi-filled word problem gets a graphic treatment in this printable infographic (available in both poster-size and 8.5-by-11 handouts) that helps students visualize the steps they need to get to a solution. A companion answer key is also available below and walks students through each step of the solutions. It can be printed on the back of the problem-set infographic for an educational classroom poster.

"Pi in the Sky" Downloads:

TAGS: Pi Day, Infographics, Curiosity, Mars, SMAP, Earth, Juno, Jupiter, Cassini, Saturn, K-12

  • Kim Orr

Pi in the Sky Infographic

In honor of Pi Day, March 14 (or 3.14), 2013, the JPL Education Office has released an infographic highlighting some of the ways scientists and engineers at the laboratory use pi in their daily work. For example, scientists can use pi (along with mass and radius) to calculate the density of an asteroid and its material makeup.

The infographic also features a pi- and planetary-themed mathematics challenge for students that asks them to find various measurements for a fictional "Planet Pi," which appropriately has a circumference of 314,152 miles.

The infographic is available on the JPL Infographics website and as a full-resolution download below.

"Planet Pi" Downloads:

TAGS: Pi Day, Infographics, Math, K-12, Downloads, Posters

  • Kim Orr

PASADENA,Calif. – Middle-school students and their teachers gathered in Washington last Friday (6/1) to demonstrate science lessons and highlight images they took from lunar orbit using NASA’s lunar orbiting Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft and its MoonKAM system. Along with demonstrating their knowledge of the moon and science, the students listened top resentations from the GRAIL mission’s lead scientist, Maria Zuber, NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver, President Obama’s science advisor John Holdren, and Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space. The event took place at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

“I was more than impressed with the student demonstrations and their grasp of lunar science, I was blown away,”said Maria Zuber, principal investigator of the GRAIL mission from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. “The GRAIL mission and MoonKAM are making a difference in young student’s lives one image at a time.”

MoonKAM (Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students) is the education and public outreach instrument aboard the lunar orbiting GRAIL spacecraft. MoonKAM provides students around the world with an opportunity to identify and choose images of the moon's surface using small cameras aboard the two lunar orbiters of GRAIL – Ebb and Flow. To date, over 80,000 pictures of the lunar surface have been commanded, imaged and received by fifth- to eighth-grade students. The MoonKAM program is led by Sally Ride and her team at Sally Ride Science in collaboration with undergraduate students at the University of California in San Diego.

“The MoonKAM program brings out students’ natural enthusiasm for science,” said Sally Ride. “Many of these students will be our future scientists and I expect some of them may even visit the craters they photographed.”

The GRAIL mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The mission is part of the Discovery Program managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. NASA's Deep Space Network is an international network of antennas that supports interplanetary spacecraft missions and radio and radar astronomy observations for the exploration of thesolar system and the universe. The network also supports selected Earth-orbiting missions. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

For information about MoonKAM, visit:

For more information about GRAIL, visit:

TAGS: MoonKAM, GRAIL, Moon, K-12


Voyager Golden Record

During a live NASA Television program on April 28, 2011, schools around the United States asked questions about the farthest human-made objects in space, the twin Voyager spacecraft.

View an archive of the broadcast on USTREAM

TAGS: USTREAM, NASA TV, Voyager, Missions, K-12

  • NASA/JPL Edu

Students in LA's Best

February conjures up thoughts of Valentine's Day, President's Day and, depending on where you are, a snow day or two. In Los Angeles, February also brings an annual partnership between NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and LA's BEST, a Los Angeles-based after-school enrichment program.

The main objective is for JPL engineers, scientists, business managers, outreach staff and educators to visit LA's BEST after-school sites to share exciting topics in science, engineering and space exploration with students. One group from JPL's Office of Communications and Education led a "Space Web Editor for a Day" activity. Fourth and fifth graders selected their favorite space images and wrote captions explaining why they liked the images. They also prepped images and text for a web page. Their final product can be seen below.


I named it colorful Venus because its color is like a rainbow and I like all the colors of the rainbow.
- Isabel

Mars as seen by the MER rover

I picked Mars because it is cool but I think it is a little bit dangerous. I also like Mars because the dirt is the color brown and brown is my favorite color.
- Adriana

Solar flare

I like this image because it looks interesting and I like the shiny things coming out of it. This image is red, and a little bit yellow. I love the color yellow.
- Anali

I choose this picture because it looks very interesting. The sun is yellow because the sun is hot and bright.
- Jonathan

I like it because it looks like a ball of fire in space. Fire comes out and spreads into space.
- Johnny

Saturn's moon Enceladus seen beyond Saturn's rings

You might see it is similar to an eclipse, which more or less happens on Earth. What I think, it is an Eclipse. Since Earth's eclipse is similar, Enceladus is my best guess.
- Eduardo


What I like about Neptune is that the color it has is blue. Blue is my favorite color. The shape of it reminds me of a round ball.
- Natalia

3-D image of the sun

I like this picture because it looks like a big pink diamond and it heats us up.
- Alexandria

Saturnian moon

I like this image because it looks like a sponge.
- Jaime

The moon gets heat from the sun and melts into the moon's surface. The moon may have low density.
- Virginia

Whirlpool galaxy

I like this picture because it looks like floating water in space. I also like this picture because it's cool.
- Ammerica

It looks like a lot of stars connecting. The whirlpool looks so bright. To me, it looks like a tornado of ice and water.
- Carlos

I picked the Whirlpool galaxy because it is like it is spinning around. It is blue, my favorite color. It is famous. I also like it because it is called Messier 51, named after Charles Messier.
- Jacqueline

I like this image because I could learn about this galaxy and where they found it.
- Juan

The Whirlpool galaxy is a famous spiral galaxy. The Whirlpool galaxy is also called Messier 51, named after Charles Messier. The Whirlpool's very bright spiral arms show areas of compressed dust and gas.
- Maritza

TAGS: K-12, STEAM, Space Images

  • NASA/JPL Edu