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Eats, Breathes, Thinks, Creates
Our solar system is fantastically bizarre. There are worlds with features we never imagined. Storms larger than planets, moons with under-surface oceans, lakes of methane, worldlets that swap places…and that’s just at Saturn.
scienceisbeauty:

Images taken during the Cassini spacecraft’s orbital insertion on June 30 show definite compositional variation within the rings. This image shows, from left to right, the outer portion of the C ring and inner portion of the B ring. The B ring begins a little more than halfway across the image. The general pattern is from “dirty” particles indicated by red to cleaner ice particles shown in turquoise in the outer parts of the rings.
Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Colorado
Source: Saturn’s Colorful Rings (Wired Space Photo of the Day)
pappubahry:

Spokes in Saturn’s B Ring, photographed by Cassini, 21 August 2008.  (Also you can see Pandora just outside the F Ring.)
utcjonesobservatory:

Senkyo’s Dunes
The Cassini spacecraft once again dons its special infrared glasses to peer through Titan’s haze and monitor its surface. Here, Cassini has recaptured the equatorial region dubbed “Senkyo.” The dark features are believed to be vast dunes of hydrocarbon particles that precipitated out of Titan’s atmosphere.
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute [high-resolution]
Caption: Cassini Solstice Team
thenewenlightenmentage:

Move over exoplanets, exomoons may harbour life too
In the Star Wars universe, everyone’s favourite furry aliens, the Ewoks, famously lived on the “forest moon of Endor”. In scientific terms, the Ewok’s home world would be referred to as an exomoon, which is simply a moon that orbits an exoplanet – any planet that orbits a star other than our sun.
Although more than 1,000 exoplanets have been discovered since the first one was found in 1995, only a handful of those are thought to be habitable, at least by life as we know it. New research shows that exomoons, too, could provide habitable environments. Although we are yet to find exomoons, we have good reasons to believe that there should be many, even more than exoplanets.
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thenewenlightenmentage:

Titan in the Foreground
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/SPACE SCIENCE INSTITUTE
spaceexp:


Titan’s layers of haze
Source: Val Klavans
ageofdestruction:

hex: Saturn’s north pole, photographed by Cassini, 3rd April 2014.
The hexagon is an atmospheric vortex, the shape apparently created by interaction of winds circling the pole at different speeds. Each side of the hexagon is about 13,800km long, wider than Earth.
10 images taken over about a quarter of a Saturnian day, which is about 10 hours and 40 minutes long.
Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI. Animation: AgeOfDestruction.
astrodidact:

PASADENA, Calif. — The intensity of the jets of water ice and organic particles that shoot out from Saturn’s moon Enceladus depends on the moon’s proximity to the ringed planet, according to data obtained by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
The finding adds to evidence that a liquid water reservoir or ocean lurks under the icy surface of the moon. This is the first clear observation the bright plume emanating from Enceladus’ south pole varies predictably. The findings are detailed in a scientific paper in this week’s edition of Nature.
"The jets of Enceladus apparently work like adjustable garden hose nozzles," said Matt Hedman, the paper’s lead author and a Cassini team scientist based at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "The nozzles are almost closed when Enceladus is closer to Saturn and are most open when the moon is farthest away. We think this has to do with how Saturn squeezes and releases the moon with its gravity."
Cassini, which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004, discovered the jets that form the plume in 2005. The water ice and organic particles spray out from several narrow fissures nicknamed “tiger stripes.”
"The way the jets react so responsively to changing stresses on Enceladus suggests they have their origins in a large body of liquid water," said Christophe Sotin, a co-author and Cassini team member at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Liquid water was key to the development of life on Earth, so these discoveries whet the appetite to know whether life exists everywhere water is present."
For years scientists hypothesized the intensity of the jets likely varied over time, but no one had been able to show they changed in a recognizable pattern. Hedman and colleagues were able to see the changes by examining infrared data of the plume as a whole, obtained by Cassini’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS), and looking at data gathered over a long period of time.
The VIMS instrument, which enables the analysis of a wide range of data including the hydrocarbon composition of the surface of another Saturnian moon, Titan, and the seismological signs of Saturn’s vibrations in its rings, collected more than 200 images of the Enceladus plume from 2005 to 2012. These data show the plume was dimmest when the moon was at the closest point in its orbit to Saturn. The plume gradually brightened until Enceladus was at the most distant point, where it was three to four times brighter than the dimmest detection. This is comparable to moving from a dim hallway into a brightly lit office.
Adding the brightness data to previous models of how Saturn squeezes Enceladus, the scientists deduced the stronger gravitational squeeze near the planet reduces the opening of the tiger stripes and the amount of material spraying out. They think the relaxing of Saturn’s gravity farther away from planet allows the tiger stripes to be more open and for the spray to escape in larger quantities.
"Cassini’s time at Saturn has shown us how active and kaleidoscopic this planet, its rings and its moons are," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at JPL. "We’ve come a long way from the placid-looking Saturn that Galileo first spied through his telescope. We hope to learn more about the forces at work here as a microcosm for how our solar system formed."
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The VIMS team is based at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
For more information about the Cassini mission, visit:  http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov .
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/whycassini/cassini-sees-forces-controlling-enceladus-jets/
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