Revealing Saturn: Cassini Science Highlights and the Grand Finale

September 22 & 23

The Cassini mission’s findings have revolutionized our understanding of Saturn, its complex rings, the amazing assortment of moons and the planet’s dynamic magnetic environment. The robotic spacecraft arrived in 2004 after a 7-year flight from Earth, dropped a parachuted probe named Huygens to study the atmosphere and surface of Saturn’s big moon Titan, and commenced making astonishing discoveries that continue today.

Cassini’s current mission extension has led to some remarkable discoveries and more are expected when Cassini repeatedly dives between the innermost ring and the top of Saturn’s atmosphere during its final six months starting in April 2017. Late last year Cassini completed its final equatorial tour of Saturn’s icy satellites, culminating in a series of Enceladus encounters including a daring pass through the icy moon’s southern jets and plume.

The mission then began executing a series of Titan flybys, each of which increases the spacecraft’s inclination until it finally reaches nearly 64 degrees. At that point, in late November, the Cassini mission will embark on its final set of orbits: 20 F ring orbits with a periapsis just outside Saturn’s F ring, 22 Proximal orbits, the Grand Finale, with periapsis between the innermost D ring and Saturn, and finally, entry into Saturn’s atmosphere in September 2017.

What new puzzles will Cassini solve before it plunges into Saturn’s atmosphere rather than risk crashing into one of Saturn’s ocean worlds and contaminating it? Come and hear the story of recent science discoveries and the upcoming excitement during the final orbits. Dr. Linda Spilker, Cassini Project Scientist, will present highlights of Cassini’s ambitious inquiry at Saturn and an overview of science observations in the final orbits. Dr. Earl Maize will discuss Cassini’s exciting challenges and promise of the final year of the mission, ultimately flying through a region where no spacecraft has ever flown before.

This flagship mission is a cooperative undertaking by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Italian space agency Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI).

Dr. Earl Maize, Cassini Project Manager, JPL
Dr. Linda Spilker, Cassini Project Scientist, JPL

Standard Podcast: Play video (with captions)