A few years ago I had a question about the Cassini space probe. I sent an email to Carolyn Porco of the imaging team, who I didn’t know. She answered my query and put me on her mailing list.
This is a great mailing list – possibly the best I’m on!
Cassini has been orbiting Saturn for a while, moving in and out of the rings and past Saturn’s multitude of moons. I’d put a number, but no one really knows how many there are, plus a lot depends on your definition of a moon!
One of the latest stops for Cassini was a nice photo session with Hyperion. It’s reddish in color and pock marked with craters. Like so much else in space, Hyperion is potato shaped.
The potato factor has been constant topic of conversation between Dave brody, my former producer on Inside Space, and me. We have no idea why the natural order of space has chosen this particular vegetable to model so much on.
On most solid planets and moons, an incoming meteorite blasts into the surface, ejecting a significant portion of what was there. On hyperion, an oncoming meteorite hitting the surface would primarily compress it. Very little would be blasted back into space – even with Hyperion’s minimal gravity.
All I could think of was Styrofoam. Hyperion acts as if it’s made of Styrofoam!
Like Styrofoam, Hyperion is isn’t very dense. If you had a large enough bathtub, Hyperion would float (as would Saturn itself). Hyperion has half the density of water.
I’m getting a little jealous. It seems we know more about Saturn and its moons than we know about Earth and ours. The Cassini instrumentation is quite good and has produced tons of data.
In fact, Casini was able to measure its effect on Hyperion as it looked on from 30,000+ miles away.
A few months ago, I wrote to Carolyn Porco, Cassini Imaging Team Leader, CICLOPS/Space Science Institute. Helluva title.
Cassini is an amazing satellite mission to Saturn. It will bring pictures unlike those we’ve ever seen before. But, as is so often the case in space, you launch it and then twiddle your thumbs for years – seven years in this case. Saturn is a distance and Cassini isn’t flying in a straight line.
Little did I know that writing to Carolyn would put me on their mailing list. Usually, I’d wince at something like that. But this list has been great fun to read, because I got on at the right time, as Cassini began to approach Saturn.
Last month there was a picture of the planet, filling the entire screen. From this point on Cassini would be too close to Saturn to get more than a partial view. Everything would be closer and in greater detail, including visits to the moons and a transit through Saturn’s ring system.
Then the cameras starting pointing toward Phoebe, a Connecticut sized rock which circles Saturn in the opposite direction from all its other moons! It’s thought that maybe Phoebe was an asteroid or comet or some intergalactic interloper that got caught in Saturn’s magnetic field and was, in essence, captured.
Very impressive and probably worth seven years of twiddling.