Cassini-Huygens

15 September 2017 marked the end of one of the most successful space missions of the last decades: NASA's Cassini mission had orbited Saturn for 13 years before it burnt up in the upper atmosphere of the ringed planet.

Launched in October 1997, it reached Saturn in 2004 and flew around the gas giant almost three hundred times. During its 20 years in space, Cassini has delivered 635 GB of science data, which have been investigated in almost 4000 scientific publications until the end of the mission. IWF has participated in more than 50 publications in international journals.

One of the multiple highlights of the mission was certainly the landing of ESA’s Huygens Probe (piggybacked on Cassini) on Saturn's enigmatic moon Titan in January 2005. Titan turned out to be a moon with landscapes similar to Earth, with rivers, lakes, clouds, rain, mountains, and dunes. However, the freezing-cold temperature on its surface is around ‑180 °C at a pressure level of 1.5 bars. At such conditions methane and other hydrocarbons play a similar role in forming the landscape as water on Earth.

Another highlight was the discovery of geysers at the south pole of the icy moon Enceladus, and the ocean below its icy crust could be a habitable environment for simple life forms. Cassini has given us new views on Saturn's rings, aurora, atmosphere, and on numerous moons in the Saturn system. Cassini detected large hurricanes on Saturn’s north and south pole and a giant thunderstorm raged in Saturn's northern hemisphere over several months in the years 2010/2011.

Aboard ESA's Huygens probe IWF has contributed to the development of ACP (Aerosol Collector and Pyrolyser) and HASI (Huygens Atmospheric Structure Instrument), as well as to the data analysis of GCMS (Gas Chromatograph and Mass Spectrometer). IWF was also a member in the Cassini RPWS (Radio and Plasma Wave Science) team and has calibrated the RPWS antennas. Of course IWF has also analyzed the data delivered by the Cassini-Huygens mission.

Further information on Cassini-Huygens is found at NASA and ESA.