Cassini's latest dispatches reach across a billion miles from Saturn to Earth
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: August 9, 2010
The Cassini probe continues to send back dramatic images of Saturn as it nears the end of its first extended mission at the iconic ringed planet a billion miles from Earth.
Cassini's equinox mission will end in September, but the $3 billion mission will continue its discoveries until 2017 under another extension that will last until summer in Saturn's northern hemisphere.
Called the solstice mission, Cassini's next seven years will allow scientists to observe Saturn for a complete seasonal cycle -- from winter to summer in Saturn's northern hemisphere. Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004 for a four-year mission, which was lengthened in the equinox mission until September 2010.
Saturn's equinox occurred in August 2009, when the sun shined directly on the planet's equator
Cassini has flown by methane-rich Titan, the planet's largest moon, 71 times since the probe entered orbit around Saturn. Cassini has visited the ice-covered moon Enceladus 10 times.
The craft's next flyby of Enceladus is on tap for Friday, when it will soar less than 1,600 miles above the moon's south pole to measure the temperature of mysterious "tiger stripes" that are linked to powerful geysers of water and organic material.
The tiger stripes are fissures in the icy crust of Enceladus.