Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Saturn mission: Cassini instrument learns new tricks

Date:
December 20, 2012
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
For seven years, a mini-fridge-sized instrument aboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft reliably investigated weather patterns swirling around Saturn; the hydrocarbon composition of the surface of Saturn's moon Titan; the aerosol layers of Titan's haze; and dirt mixing with ice in Saturn's rings. But this year the instrument -- the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) -- has been testing out some new telescopic muscles.

This false-color composite image, constructed from data obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, shows Saturn's rings and southern hemisphere. The composite image was made from 65 individual observations by Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer in the near-infrared portion of the light spectrum on Nov. 1, 2008. The observations were each six minutes long.
Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

For seven years, a mini-fridge-sized instrument aboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft reliably investigated weather patterns swirling around Saturn; the hydrocarbon composition of the surface of Saturn's moon Titan; the aerosol layers of Titan's haze; and dirt mixing with ice in Saturn's rings. But this year the instrument -- the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) -- has been testing out some new telescopic muscles.

Related Articles


This Friday, Dec. 21, the spectrometer will be tracking the path of Venus across the face of the sun from its perch in the Saturn system. Earthlings saw such a transit earlier this year, from June 5 to 6. But the observation in December will be the first time a spacecraft has tracked a transit of a planet in our solar system from beyond Earth orbit.

Cassini will collect data on the molecules in Venus's atmosphere as sunlight shines through it. But learning about Venus actually isn't the point of the observation. Scientists actually want to use the occasion to test the VIMS instrument's capacity for observing planets outside our solar system.

"Interest in infrared investigations of extrasolar planets has exploded in the years since Cassini launched, so we had no idea at the time that we'd ask VIMS to learn this new kind of trick," said Phil Nicholson, the VIMS team member based at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., who is overseeing the transit observations. "But VIMS has worked so well at Saturn so far that we can start thinking about other things it can do."

VIMS will be able to complement exoplanet studies by space telescopes such as NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. VIMS scientists are particularly interested in investigating atmospheric data -- such as signatures of methane -- from far-off star systems in near-infrared wavelengths.

The pointing has to be very accurate to get one of those extrasolar planets in VIMS's viewfinder, but the instrument has had lots of practice pointing at other stars. Earlier this year, VIMS obtained its first successful observation of a transit by the exoplanet HD 189733b. Scientists want to improve these observations by reducing the amount of noise in the signal.

In April, VIMS demonstrated another kind of flexibility by turning its eyes to the warm fissures slashing cross the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus. VIMS is particularly good at taking thermal data in temperatures around minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit (200 kelvins). So while it is good at tracking hotspots and turbulent clouds on Saturn, VIMS is generally unable to detect thermal emission from Titan, the icy satellites or the rings, since their temperatures are much colder than that.

But the fissures on Enceladus, which scientists have called tiger stripes, are just hot enough for VIMS to detect heat coming from them.

"For the first time, we were able to see that the jets coming from the surface of Enceladus originated in very small, very hot spots," said Bonnie Buratti, a VIMS scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "This new observation is good evidence for liquid water underneath the surface."

VIMS is one of 12 instruments on Cassini, which launched in 1997 and began orbiting Saturn in 2004. "We built Cassini to be hardy, and we're pleased that the spacecraft has been weathering the extreme conditions of the Saturn system remarkably well," said Robert Mitchell, Cassini program manager at JPL. "It isn't too tired to try something new."

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team is based at the University of Arizona, Tucson.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Saturn mission: Cassini instrument learns new tricks." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 December 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121220210415.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2012, December 20). Saturn mission: Cassini instrument learns new tricks. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 6, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121220210415.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Saturn mission: Cassini instrument learns new tricks." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121220210415.htm (accessed March 6, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Friday, March 6, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Hubble Sees Rare 'Einstein Cross' Image Of Distant Supernova

Hubble Sees Rare 'Einstein Cross' Image Of Distant Supernova

Newsy (Mar. 5, 2015) — A rare trick of the light caused by the gravity of a distant galaxy caused Hubble to see four images of the same supernova at once. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
What's Up March 2015

What's Up March 2015

NASA (Mar. 4, 2015) — A total solar eclipse in the North Atlantic and tips to prepare for the next U.S. eclipse. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: SpaceX Launches Rocket, Satellites on Board

Raw: SpaceX Launches Rocket, Satellites on Board

AP (Mar. 2, 2015) — SpaceX launched it&apos;s 16th Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Sunday night. The rocket was carrying two commercial communications satellites. (March 2) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA EDGE: SMAP Launch

NASA EDGE: SMAP Launch

NASA (Mar. 2, 2015) — Join NASA EDGE as they cover the launch of the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) spacecraft live from Vandenberg Air Force Base.  Special guests include NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, SMAP Project System Engineer Shawn Goodman and Lt Col Brande Walton and Joseph Sims from the Air Force.  No word on the Co-Host&apos;s whereabouts. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins