Students taste life as a space scientist in Cassini competition
17 May 2016Over the past 12 years, the NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens mission has made numerous exciting discoveries and returned many stunning images of the Saturnian system. Saturn, its moons, and rings provide the inspiration behind the 'Cassini scientist for a day' competition that is designed to give school students a taste of life as a space scientist. More than 900 students from across Europe participated in the 2015–2016 competition and the winners have now been selected.
'Cassini scientist for a day' is an international competition, with students from all over the world taking part. NASA-JPL runs the contest in the United States, while ESA coordinates the competition in Europe, with a national organiser and a panel of judges in each country that competes.
To enter, students needed to first research the three scientific targets that will be imaged by the Cassini spacecraft especially for the competition. Students then selected the one target that they thought was the most scientifically interesting and were asked to write a 500-word essay describing why.
|Target 1: Tethys, Enceladus, Mimas and Saturn's rings. Image taken for 'Cassini Scientist for a Day' competition 2015-2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute|
For the 2015–2016 competition, students could choose between: an image of Saturn's rings, also including three of Saturn's moons:, namely Tethys, Enceladus, and Mimas; a distant image of Jupiter; or a short movie of Saturn's moon, Tethys, passing behind another moon, Rhea.
Entries were received with scientific goals as diverse as identifying mysterious dark material on the surface of Tethys , and comparing a distant image of Jupiter to images of exoplanets to help learn more about studies of the atmospheres of worlds outside our Solar System.
|Target 2: Jupiter at a distance. Image taken for 'Cassini Scientist for a Day' competition 2015-2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute|
More than 900 students entered the competition, some of who collaborated in teams of up to four people. Each participating country selected their national winners, all of who will receive a selection of ESA gifts, as well as having their essays published on the ESA website. All participants will receive a certificate recognising their contributions to the competition.
The Cassini–Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). Launched in 1997, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft arrived in the Saturn system in July 2004. On 25 December 2004, the Huygens probe was released from the orbiter and parachuted through the atmosphere to the surface of Saturn's largest moon, Titan.
|Target 3: Rhea and Tethys. Image taken for 'Cassini Scientist for a Day' competition 2015-2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute|
The Cassini spacecraft is undertaking an extensive exploration of the Saturnian system with its rings and many satellites. Cassini completed its initial four-year mission to explore the Saturn System in June 2008 and the first extended mission, called the 'Cassini Equinox Mission', in September 2010. A second extended mission, called the 'Cassini Solstice Mission' will continue until September 2017; this will allow scientists to study the Saturnian system until the summer solstice has passed in May 2017. By the time this new extension is completed, the Cassini mission will have covered (since it arrived in the system) one half of a Saturnian year.