NASA’s Cassini probe, currently scoping out Saturn, has officially celebrated 10 years of Saturn exploration. When it originally launched in 1997, the spacecraft was originally approved for a four-year mission, but after several mission extensions, the probe is still going strong. During its ten years of Saturn exploration, Cassini has made several worthwhile observations and discoveries, giving researchers a better understanding of how planetary systems form and what conditions are necessary for life.
“Having a healthy, long-live spacecraft at Saturn has afforded us a precious opportunity,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist.
As space.com notes, Cassini helped scientists learn about what molecules populate our solar system and the plumes of water-ice shooting from Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Water is obviously an essential ingredients for the survival of life—at least as we understand it here on Earth—so seeing the possibility of water elsewhere in the solar system gives scientists hope that life does exist outside of our little planet.
In addition to making unprecedented observations of Enceladus, Cassini also helped study the moon Titan, which researchers believe has rain, lakes, seas and rivers just like Earth. But Titan actually has seas of liquid methane, not water, which means that’s not exactly a place humans can expect to one day inhabit.
Cassini is also responsible for unveiling how Saturn’s rings change over time, giving researchers better insight into the sixth planet from the Sun. Saturn is our solar system’s second largest planet, behind Jupiter, and is said to be a gas giant that’s about 9x the size of Earth. NASA’s enduring probe is expected to continue its studies until 2017, when it will then plunge into the planet’s atmosphere.
Per NASA, here are a few incredible bullet point stats regarding Cassini’s ten years of exploration.
- Two billion miles traveled since arriving at Saturn.
- 514GB of science data collected.
- Seven moons discovered.
- 206 orbits completed.
- 332,000 images taken.