NASA's Cassini spacecraft has sighted Saturn

Press Release From: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Posted: Friday, November 1, 2002

The Cassini Imaging Team today is releasing a color composite image of Saturn and its moon, Titan, 20 months before the Cassini spacecraft arrives at the planet.

The image is available online from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at and from the Cassini Imaging Team's University of Arizona site at The image shows the shadow of the planet falling across its famous rings and includes Saturn's largest moon, Titan.

The planet was 285 million kilometers (177 million miles) from the spacecraft when the images were taken last week, nearly twice the distance between Earth and the Sun. The spacecraft has now crossed more than half the distance to Saturn from Jupiter, its last rendezvous.

"Cassini has sighted the ringed planet looking distant, mysterious and serene," said Carolyn Porco, a planetary scientist at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and leader of the science team using the Cassini camera.

Cassini camera-team member Alfred McEwen at the University of Arizona, Tucson, added, "Seeing the picture makes our science-planning work suddenly seem more real. Now we can see Saturn and we'll watch it get bigger as a visual cue that we're approaching fast. It's good to see the camera is working well."

Dennis Matson, Cassini project scientist at JPL in Pasadena, Calif., said, "This is an emotional event for the mission. We now have Saturn in our sights."

The 14-member NASA-selected imaging science team will use the camera to investigate many features of Saturn, its moons and its rings. Cassini will begin a four-year prime mission in orbit around Saturn when it arrives on July 1, 2004. It will release a piggybacked probe, Huygens, to descend through the thick atmosphere of Titan on Jan. 14, 2005.

Cassini-Huygens is a cooperative mission of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. Additional information about it is available online at JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.

Many UA planetary scientists and their students are directly involved in the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn.

In addition to McEwen, they include:

  • Robert H. Brown, team leader for the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS)
  • Jonathan I. Lunine, interdisciplinary scientist for the Cassini mission
  • Martin Tomasko, principal investigator for the Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer (DISR) that will be deployed to the surface of Titan on the Huygens probe
  • Peter Smith, co-investigator on DISR
  • Ralph Lorenz, member of the Cassini Radar Team and co-investigator on the Surface Science Package on the Huygens probe
  • Donald Hunten, co-investigator on the Gas Chromatograph and Mass Spectrometer on the Huygens probe
  • * Roger Yelle, team member for the Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer

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