Wednesday, January 13, 2010

significant discoveries AND significant engineering!

They don't even mention the engineering necessary to accomplish such a feat!

Dr Michele Dougherty is professor of space physics at Imperial College London. She led the team that designed the magnetic field instrument aboard the Cassini spacecraft. This experiment was responsible for what she says is one of the most significant discoveries in our Solar System:

Michele Dougherty, Imperial College London
This has made it one of our Solar System's prime candidates in the search for life
Michele Dougherty

"The Cassini spacecraft completed its four-year mission to explore the Saturn system in 2008. It continues to thrive and is now working overtime.

Its most important discovery was that of a dynamic atmosphere at one of Saturn's small moons, Enceladus.

At the dawn of a new decade, this finding is still driving discussions for future missions to Enceladus, to search for life in our Solar System.

Our team's instrument revealed outgassing of water vapour at Enceladus. On a distant flyby of this moon in 2005, perturbations in the magnetic field data led us to conclude that Enceladus had an atmosphere made up of water vapour constituents that were acting as an obstacle to the plasma flow.

Saturn's icy moon, Enceladus (SPL)
Saturn's small, icy moon has a dynamic atmosphere

The implications of these results were so critical that our team convinced the Cassini project to move a follow-on Enceladus flyby - three months later - much closer in to the moon.

This eventually skimmed just 173km above Enceladus' surface, allowing detailed exploration of this potential atmosphere.

The flyby confirmed that a plume filled with water vapour, dust and hydrocarbons was emanating from cracks on the icy south polar surface.

The existence of water and hydrocarbons on this icy moon has made it one of our Solar System's prime candidates in the search for life."


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