What incredible things will the Cassini spacecraft at Saturn see and do over the next few years? Here's a preview.
Transcript:Cassini is there in the Saturn system now. It has been making discoveries for the last several years and there's more to come.
By studying the satellites in the Saturnian system, we begin to understand something also about the origin of the solar system.
There is strong evidence now that most of the surface of Titan is, in fact, covered with organic material of some kind.
We're going to be looking at lakes on the surface of this moon in detail.
We're going to be looking at the atmosphere to see how the climate changes over time.
We have some global circulation models that tell us that if the winds pick up, we think there could be waves on the lakes of liquid methane.
Can you imagine anybody thinking that we would discover active cryovolcanism on one of these moons? Geysers?
One of the things that we'll do in the next couple of years is make the first ever fly-by, through the plume, when the plume output is at its maximum.
And then of course there's the planet Saturn itself. As we go through our series of orbits and as the seasons change, it's like having a brand new mission.
One Saturn year is nearly 30 Earth years. To be there for nearly half of a Saturn year is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The sun now is coming up on the north pole, so we're getting to see territory that was in darkness when we first arrived in 2004. Pretty soon we'll have the whole hexagon and the hurricane inside of it illuminated by the sun.
And then of course the mission end itself is completely unique. Starting in 2016 ending in 2017, these orbits will take us up and over the north and south poles of the planet.
We're actually going to dive in between the innermost edge of the D ring and the upper atmosphere of the planet itself. From that we're going to learn how is Saturn constructed from inside out.
We'll also get the magnetic field of the planet , the mass of the rings, for the very first time and get to sample a place that no spacecraft has ever flown before.
This is a mission that cannot be duplicated so we really want to take advantage of this opportunity to observe seasonal variation in the system.