What We’ve Learned From The Cassini-Huygens Mission

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The Cassini-Huygens mission which lasted for almost 20 years has come to an end a few days ago in the form of a “glorious” descent in Saturn. As this was one of the most successful missions in humanity’s space exploration history, now is a good time to look back in the past two decades and highlight the most important achievements by the Cassini-Huygens explorer, the first probe that was sent to explore Saturn and its moons from up close.

In bulk numbers, the probe sent back 635 GB of scientific data to us that resulted in the development and publication of about 4000 science papers. The images taken by the probe’s optical instruments and beamed back to Earth reached the staggering amount of 450000, many of which revealed the form of previously unknown locations way too far from our home planet. Here are the most significant feats of the Cassini-Huygens explorer mission:

  • Cassini’s flyby of Jupiter lasted for about six months in 2000, taking 26000 high resolution images of unprecedented detail and clarity, allowing scientists to perform in-depth analysis of Jupiter’s atmosphere.

  • Seven new moons of Saturn were discovered by Cassini, named Methone, Pallene, Polydeuces, Daphnis, Anthe, Aegaeon, and S/2009 S1. All of these new moons are of course small in size, with Daphnis being the largest having a diameter of about 8 kilometers and orbiting on the planet’s rings.

  • Phoebe, one of Saturn’s moons of a mean diameter of 213 kilometers was photographed from up close by Cassini in 2004 for the first time, revealing its spectacular physical characteristics. Similar flybys that resulted in similarly high-resolution images were performed for Iapetus in 2007, Mimas in 2010, and then Rhea, Hyperion, and Dione in 2015.

  • From 2005 until 2015 Cassini performed around ten close flybys of the Enceladus moon, one of the very few places in our neighborhood that can foster life. The analysis of the data and images revealed a lot about the salty oceans of liquid water that lie below the icy crust, as well as huge water and carbon dioxide geysers on the southern parts of the moon.

  • Titan, the largest moon of Saturn and one of the most interesting places in our solar system revealed huge lakes of liquid methane in radar images taken by Cassini in 2006. Previously, in 2004, the Huygens probe landed on Titan, taking 700 images half of which were successfully sent back to Earth through the Cassini relay.

  • Tons of new realizations about Saturn and its atmosphere were made thanks to Cassini’s data, with images of its north pole Hexagon, the great “White Spot” storm of 2010, eyewall hurricanes observed in 2006, and radio occultation experiments that helped analyze the planet’s majestic rings in 2005.

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