Update â Feb. 24, 2017: The deadline for the Cassini Scientist for a Day Essay Contest has passed. The winners will be announced in May 2017.
Next week, NASAâs Cassini spacecraft will go where no spacecraft has gone before when it flies just past the edge of Saturnâs main rings. The maneuver is a first for the spacecraft, which has spent more than 12 years orbiting the ringed giant planet. And itâs part of a lead-up to a series of increasingly awesome feats that make up the missionâs âGrand Finaleâ ending with Cassiniâs plunge into Saturn on Sept. 15, 2017.
How Theyâll Do It
Cassini's ring-grazing orbits, which will take place from late Novemeber 2016 through April 2017, are shown here in tan. The blue lines represent the path that Cassini took in the time leading up to the new orbits during its extended solstice mission. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute | âº Larger image
To prepare for the so-called âring-grazing orbits,â which will bring the spacecraft within 56,000 miles (90,000 km) of Saturn, Cassini engineers have been slowly adjusting the spacecraftâs orbit since January. They do this by flying Cassini near Saturnâs large moon Titan. The moonâs gravity pulls on the spacecraft, changing its direction and speed.
On November 29, Cassini will use a big gravitational pull from Titan to get into an orbit that is closer to perpendicular with respect to the rings of Saturn and its equator. This orbit will send the spacecraft slightly higher above and below Saturnâs north and south poles, and allow it to get as close as the outer edge of the main rings â a region as of yet unexplored by Cassini.
This graphic illustrates the Cassini spacecraft's trajectory, or flight path, during the final two phases of its mission. The view is toward Saturn as seen from Earth. The 20 ring-grazing orbits are shown in gray; the 22 grand finale orbits are shown in blue. The final partial orbit is colored orange. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute | âº Larger image
Why Itâs Important
Cassiniâs ring-grazing orbits will allow scientists to see features in Saturn's rings, up close, that theyâve only been able to observe from afar. The spacecraft will get so close to the rings, in fact, that it will pass through the dusty edges of the F ring, Saturnâs narrow, outermost ring. At that distance, Cassini will be able to study the rings like never before.
Among the firsts will be a âtaste testâ of Saturnâs rings from the inside out, during which Cassini will sample the faint gases surrounding the rings as well as the particles that make up the F ring. Cassini will also capture some of the best high-resolution images of the rings, and our best views of the small moons Atlas, Pan, Daphnis and Pandora, which orbit near the rings' outer edges. Finally, the spacecraft will do reconnaissance work needed to safely carry out its next planned maneuver in April 2017, when Cassini is scheduled to fly through the 1,500-mile (2,350-kilometer) gap between Saturn and its rings.
âº Read more about what we might learn from Cassini's ring-grazing orbits.
These orbits are a great example of scientific research in action. Much of what scientists will be seeing in detail during these ring-grazing orbits are features that, despite Cassiniâs 12 years at Saturn, have remained a mystery. These new perspectives could help answer questions scientists have long puzzled over, but they will also certainly lead to new questions to add to our ongoing exploration of the ringed giant.
As part of the Cassini Scientist for a Day Essay Contest, students in grades 5-12 will write an essay describing which of these three targets would provide the most interesting scientific results. âº Learn more and enter
What better way to share in the excitement of Cassiniâs exploration than to get students thinking like NASA scientists and writing about their own questions and curiosities?
NASAâs Cassini Scientist for a Day Essay Contest, open to students in grades 5-12, encourages students to do just that. Participants research three science and imaging targets and then write an essay on which target would provide the most interesting scientific results, explaining what they hope to learn from the selected target. Winners of the contest will be featured on NASAâs Solar System Exploration website and get an opportunity to speak with Cassini scientists and engineers via video conference in the spring.
More information, contest rules and videos can be found here.
The deadline to enter is Feb. 24, 2017.
TAGS: Cassini, Saturn's Rings, Saturn, Grand Finale, Spacecraft, Missions, K-12, Lessons, Activities, Language Arts, Science, Essay Contest
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lyle Tavernier, Educational Technology Specialist, NASA/JPL Edu
Lyle Tavernier is an educational technology specialist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. When heâs not busy working in the areas of distance learning and instructional technology, you might find him running with his dog, cooking or planning his next trip.
Students from across Europe have been selected as winners of the Cassini Scientist for a Day 2012 competition. Coordinated by ESA, national competitions were held in several European countries, including Poland, Spain and Greece, with more than 1000 entries. An equivalent competition was run by NASA for schools in the US.
The Cassini–Huygens mission is an international project between NASA, ESA and Italy’s ASI space agency to study the giant planet Saturn and its rings and moons. The Cassini spacecraft entered orbit around Saturn in 2004 after a journey of nearly seven years from Earth. In January 2005, the Huygens probe landed on the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Cassini continues to provide an abundance of data to scientists and a small amount of the spacecraft’s time has been set aside to help young people learn about this fascinating world.
Secondary school students were invited to study three possible targets for Cassini to take images of, and to decide which one they thought would yield the best science results. The three targets for students to choose from were:
- Pan, the shepherd moon
- The F ring
Students were then asked to write an essay justifying their choice in their native language to be judged by panels of national experts.
The winners will receive an ESA_Cassini goodie bag and all entrants will receive a certificate of participation. The winners are listed below by country and the winning entries can be seen by following the links on the right.
7–12 year–old category
13–15 year–old category
Eleftheria Anna Diamanti
Ioanna Aggeliki Petsi
16–18 year–old category
13–15 year–old category
16–18 year–old category
Zuzanna Maja Nowicka
12–14 year–old category
Antonio Vitor Bengantou de Souza
15–18 year–old category
Rita Mendes Silva
9–11 year–old category
Stefan Scarlatescu, Vlad Francu
Dan Gabriel Chisca, Tudor Caldarescu (Tie)
Eduard Mironeanu (Tie)
12–13 year–old category
Ioana Ileana Ichim
Silvia Maria Niță, Ioana Ştefania Petre
Alexandru Pascadi, Dragos Martac, Andrei Draghici, Claudiu Dan
14–17 year–old category
Catalina Paraschiv, Adriana Mocanu
Catalin Adrian Parvu
10–13 year–old category
Lucila Marsala Centeno
Ricardo Porcel Huertas, Miguel Velasco Escudero, Abel Vera Garciá ,Alex Vera Garciá
Gonzalo Guitart Palonsky
14–15 year–old category
Álvaro Argüelles, Sandra Madrazo, Patricia Vicente
Olivia Ramos Garciá, María Rojas Pérez
Paula Romero Alonso, Claudia Ubreva Quirós
16–17 year–old category
Rosa Martínez Hernández, Ma Eugenia López Zarco
Julia Salinas Navas
Teresa Huertas Rodán, Sara López Adárvez
12–14 year–old category
15–17 year–old category
If this article has inspired you or your school to participate in an ESA competition, please check the ESA webpages. We will be running the Cassini Scientist for a Day competition again in late 2013, so watch this space!
If you have any questions about the competition, or want to know more about Science Education at ESA, contact Joanna Holt at SciEdu@esa.int
Pan, the shepherd moon
The F ring