Like many NASA space vehicles, the Cassini-Huygens probe has completed its primary mission but continues to provide a wealth of information for scientists on Earth. In the past month, data from Cassini has revealed a “hot cross bun” structure on Saturn’s moon Titan, as well as the fact that Titan glows in the dark.
One month ago, the Cassini probe celebrated its 15th birthday since the probe was launched back in 1997. In celebration of its progress, NASA this weekend released an interactive timeline which highlights many of the amazing discoveries that have come from Cassini’s measurements. Some of the highlights include the probe’s first flyby of Titan, the discovery of lakes on Titan, signs of water ice on Enceladus, and the launch of the Huygens probe to the surface of Titan.
After its launch, Cassini took the scenic route to Saturn. After two flybys of Venus, the probe whipped past Earth on the way to Jupiter. It spent the first six months of 2001 collaborating with the Galileo probe in studying Jupiter and its moons. In the summer of 2004 Cassini finally made it to Saturn. After launching Huygens and studying Saturn’s moons, the probe’s primary mission ended in 2008 and its new mission began. That mission was completed in 2010, and Cassini’s third and final mission began. Beginning in 2016, the probe will orbit closer and closer to Saturn, and on September 15, 2017 Cassini will enter Saturn’s atmosphere. According to NASA, the probe will be “crushed and vaporized by the pressure and temperature of Saturn’s final embrace…”