SATURN <-- click me
Amazing Right!!! More to come.... Saturn we think of as being with Jupiter as one of the most beautiful objects in the sky. (You should get a telescope and see a galaxy or nebula!!). It's amazing that such a place has such deep effect. Through it's weather, it's extremely strong magnetosphere (1000 times that of Earth - if I remember correctly), and it's strong gravitational pull, it has very interesting impact on its system of moons and of course, its rings.
As you see these images and the videos, remember that Saturn is 1 billion miles from us..
For the past 5 years, we've had a spacecraft, named after the 17th century italian astronomer Giovanni Cassini, orbiting the planet and visiting it's moons. The Cassini mission ended in June 2008, and was re-missioned (a new term for giving spacecraft already in flight new instructions) as the Cassini Equinox mission. The name is because of the Saturnian equinox will occur in August 2009. At this time, the rings of the planet will be pointing head-on toward the Earth, which is a PITA for me as I wanted to see them through my telescope. Oh well, I'll just have to stay here till 2015.
By the way, the image just below the Saturn heading above, is of course, a cross-section of the rings.
There are dozens of videos and literally millions of images that have been sent back and processed by the amazing Cassini team. This is a video of the mission as the spacecraft first arrived in 2004. (By the way, it left Earth in 1997).
This movie was made partly with footage, and partly animation (as are some others), outlining the mission as it was underway.
This next video is very special, summarizing the missionuntil last June. Remember - 1 billion miles.
So, who said Space is boring!?
These next videos are also very special.
The first HERE is taken at JPL as the very first images from one of Saturn's moons Iapetus was brought into relief.
The second movie HERE is raw video from Cassini as it flew over Iapetus a few weeks later.
So what are we learning at Saturn:
Well, the Cassini-Equinox site will keep you gasping, but here's some major points.
The rings - what are they and how did they come to be there? Well, they are made of tons of rock and ice (of various kinds). They do not have enough force to glob together - for the most part - to become moons but they are held in orbit by the tugs of gravity between Saturn and it's large moons. Where are they from? Some from deeper space, some from material shed by the moons themselves - remember the light and dark parts of Iapetus?
What keeps them apart? See the tiny moonlet in the photograph above? There are shepherd moons that run between some of the rings.
What are the moons made of? Well, it remains an enigma why each moon in the solar system - as is each planet - so very different. Maybe different asteroids and comets hit different places and seeded different material. But the moons of Saturn are - like those of Jupiter - so interesting. Some are water ice moons, some are methane/ammonia, some are rock.
We are only at the beginning of the beginning of understanding.
Here's a great objective. Station fleets of Cassini-class spacecraft at every planet and major moon. Employ robots like the Mars Robots to land and explore - carefully.
Train the next generation of young people to learn how to learn about our extended home.
Finally, just a gentle reminder that you don't have to be a spacecraft to take beautiful pictures of the planets.. Here's an Astro-Photograph taken by a fellow in Australia - submitted to one of my hobby groups:
Here's some images of some of Saturn's moons...
(remember- one billion miles)
I hope you enjoyed this short summary of Saturn. I will be posting a host more information resources, photographs and maps to my site over the next weeks .. I have to move on, as there is MORE... and this email is getting big enough to bring down the internet.