10-12 years old: Ice plumes at the south pole of Enceladus
Author: Rose O’Higgins
Cassini is a space-ship. It is exploring Saturn. The journey there took 7 years. It has been there for 13 years. During that time, it has discovered a lot of new things about Saturn. Now its mission is nearly over. In about 6 months, it will dive into the atmosphere of Saturn and be destroyed. But there is still time to learn some more things. What to choose?
The first choice is to learn more about the plumes of Enceladus.
Enceladus is a moon of Saturn. It is made of rock, water and ice. Cassini has been able to fly very close to the surface of Enceladus. It took pictures and did a lot of scientific experiments. In fact, thanks to Cassini they now believe that the inside of the planet is one big ocean. Plumes come out of its south pole. Here again Cassini has found out a lot of new things. It discovered that this part of Enceladus is quite warm. This was a surprise. It would be good to know more about these plumes. Maybe they could find out if very simple things live there. If Cassini could help with this, this would be a very big discovery. Even if they send another space-ship to Enceladus in the future, Cassini could already help by finding as many new things as possible over the next 6 months. This would help prepare the new mission.
The second choice is to learn more about the lakes of Titan.
Titan is the largest moon of Saturn. Cassini also flew very close to Titan and was able to take a lot of detailed pictures which were sent back to Earth. It launched a small probe, called Huygens, which landed on Titan and Huygens found out even more about this moon. It is very cold on Titan. One of the interesting things is that it has lakes. Even if they are not made of water, but of liquid gas, these are the first lakes found outside of Earth. It would be interesting to find out more about these lakes. One reason for this is that a long, long time ago the Earth was also very cold. By studying the lakes of Titan, we could learn more about how life started on Earth. There are many lakes and some of them are quite big, so there is a lot of work to be done.
The third choice is to view Saturn’s hexagon
Saturn’s hexagon is a strange pattern of clouds formed around the North Pole of the planet. The clouds are in the shape of a hexagon. Not so much is known about these clouds. During its mission so far, Cassini has not been able to get very close to them. It was able to see that the clouds change colour. However, they don’t know why this happened. Now at the end of the Cassini mission, it could be the chance to find out more about this strange shape on Saturn.