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Cassini Top 10 Images and Science Results of 2015

As our Cassini spacecraft enters its final 20 months before its plunge into Saturn, the mission’s science team has selected their top 10 images from 2015 (above), a year of historic discoveries, as well as the top science results (below). Take a look:

1. First Deep Seafloor Hydrothermal Vents Found Beyond Earth

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Cassini found the first evidence of active hot-water chemistry beyond planet Earth. An extensive, four-year analysis of data from the spacecraft, computer simulations and laboratory experiments led researchers to the conclusion the tiny silica (SiCO2) grains most likely form when hot water containing dissolved minerals from the moon’s rocky interior travels upward, coming into contact with cooler water.

2. Global Ocean Beneath Enceladus’ Surface

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A global ocean lies beneath the icy crust of Saturn’s geologically active moon Enceladus. Scientists analyzed more than seven years’ worth of images of Enceladus taken by the spacecraft, which has been orbiting Saturn since mid-2004. As a result, they found Enceladus has a tiny, but measurable wobble as it orbits Saturn. This proves that there must be a global layer of liquid separating the surface from the core.

3. Titan Observed Outside of Saturnian Magnetosphere

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During Cassini’s flyby of Titan, the giant moon happened to be on the sunward side of Saturn when a powerful outburst of solar activity reached the planet. The strong surge in the solar wind so compressed the sun-facing side of Saturn’s magnetosphere that the bubble’s outer edge was pushed inside the orbit of Titan. This left the moon exposed to, and unprotected from, the raging stream of energetic solar particles. The region of space dominated by Saturn’s magnetic field is called the magnetosphere.

4. Density of a Ring Particles May Indicate Recent Origins

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Saturn’s A ring was found to be warmer than expected at the planet’s equinox, and also had an unusually large thermal asymmetry about the equinox. This could be due to the A ring being mostly composed of denser particles made primarily of solid ice, with a thin top layer of fluffy regolith.

5. Titan Southern Polar Ice Cloud

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Scientists have detected a monstrous new cloud of frozen compounds in Titan’s low- to mid-stratosphere – a stable atmospheric region above the troposphere, or active weather layer.

6. Curtain Vents on Enceladus?

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New research using data from Cassini suggests most of the eruptions from Saturn’s moon Enceladus might actually be diffuse curtains rather than discrete jets. Many features that appear to be individuals jets of material erupting along the length of prominent “tiger stripe” fractures in the moon’s south polar region might be phantoms created by an optical illusion, according to the new study.

7. Discovery of Tethys Red Arcs

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Like graffiti sprayed by an unknown artist, unexplained arc-shaped, reddish streaks are visible on the surface of Saturn’s icy moon Tethys. The origin of the features and their reddish color is a mystery to scientists.

8. Saturn’s 30-year Giant Storms Powered by Water Convection

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Changes in temperature and the composition of the hydrogen-laden air within the remnants of a giant storm system on Saturn reveal that air was lofted more than 120 miles in altitude from the deeper water condensation levels.

9. Seasonal Change Seen at Saturn’s Poles

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Saturn’s polar regions have displayed extreme seasonal changes during Cassini’s decade-long watch, providing the most comprehensive view ever obtained of seasonal change on a giant planet.

10. Huygens Probe Imaging Mosaic of Titan’s Surface and Descent Movie

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Ten years ago, an explorer from Earth, the Huygens probe, was released from the Cassini spacecraft and parachuted into the haze of an alien moon toward an uncertain fate. After a gentle descent lasting more than two hours, it landed with a thud on a frigid floodplain on Titan, surrounded by icy cobblestones.

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Source: NASA

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Cassini Top 10 Images and Science Results of 2015

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