SciTechBlog
October 14, 2008

The eye of the storm

Posted: 01:19 PM ET

Check out these new Cassini pictures of the vortex at Saturn's southern pole.

Vortex at Saturn's southern pole. Image: NASA/JPL/Space Science Inst.

The new images, captured in July, are ten times more detailed than any taken before of this phenomenon. Experts say the vortex is not unlike a hurricane here on Earth...except it rages all the time, and it is anchored to the pole. And it is much larger than any terrestrial storm, about the diameter of the Earth itself, with wind speeds nearing 350 miles per hour.

Like a hurricane, the vortex is awash in convective atmospheric turnover, with warmer gases being pumped up and away from the interior. A detailed image of the eye itself show smaller storms within it...in previous images these just looked like puffy clouds.

Scientists are interested in studying this vortex because it will help them better understand the dynamics of Saturn's atmosphere. It's yet another fascinating target for Cassini as it continues its tour of the Saturn system - the rings, the moons (especially Titan, which is often compared to the primordial Earth, and the geyser moon Enceladus), and these intriguing weather systems.

–Kate Tobin, Sr. Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: Cassini • NASA • Space


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October 10, 2008

Thursday's Enceladus flyby pictures

Posted: 02:05 PM ET

As previewed in a blog post from several days ago, the Cassini spacecraft executed another in a series of close flybys of Saturn's geyser moon Enceladus on Thursday.

Raw image of Saturn's moon Enceladus taken October 10 by the Cassini spacecraft. Source: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

The first images are now available, with more to follow in the coming days.

Cassini Imaging Team Leader Carolyn Porco reports that all went according to plan:  "Yesterday, Cassini executed another daring dive over the south polar region of Enceladus and through its plume of vapor and frost.  And once again, it went spectacularly well.   The imaging team acquired fabulous images, and the instruments designed to collect and measure the constituents of the plume for analysis did what they should."

I'll keep an eye out and post again when the science analysis comes out.  As noted earlier, there is another Enceladus flyby scheduled for October 31.

–Kate Tobin, Sr. Producer, CNN Science & Tech

Filed under: Astrobiology • Cassini • Enceladus • NASA • Space


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October 7, 2008

Flybys breaking out all over

Posted: 10:44 AM ET

Here are the first images from the MESSENGER spacecraft's Monday flyby of Mercury.

Image of craters on Mercury taken Oct. 6. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

MESSENGER will fly by the planet once more in September 2009. The spacecraft is scheduled to enter orbit around Mercury on March 18, 2011.

In the meantime, the Cassini spacecraft is getting ready to execute two more flybys of Saturn's moon Enceladus (pronounced in-SELL-uh-dus) this month. Enceladus, you may recall, is the moon that is spewing cold geysers of water into space, which suggests to scientists there is liquid water (possibly even an ocean) under its surface.

The first flyby, set for Thursday October 9th, is arguably the more exciting of the two. Cassini will pass just 16 miles over the surface of the moon, directly through the geyser plume. The emphasis on this flyby will be to use the on-board science instruments to learn more about its composition. Data from previous flybys indicate that, in addition to water vapor, water ice, and dust, the plume also contains trace amounts of organic chemicals. The presence of organics has certainly perked up the antennae of the astrobiology community. In only a short period of time this little moon has shot to near the top of the list of promising places to look for extra-terrestrial microbial life.

The second Enceladus flyby of the month is set for Oct. 31. Cassini will fly 122 miles over the surface, and use on-board cameras to photograph surface fractures in the south polar region.

–Kate Tobin, Sr. Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: Astrobiology • Cassini • Enceladus • Mercury • MESSENGER • NASA • Saturn • Space


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