NASA Scientist Discusses Saturn Mission at U of L

by Devin Katayama on November 3, 2011

A NASA scientist is visiting the University of Louisville this week to teach students and staff about the scientific mission exploring Saturn.

The Cassini mission is a joint venture from NASA and the European Space Agency, which sent a spacecraft to Saturn in 1997 to record data. Most recently, researchers have been following a storm that formed on Saturn a year ago, said NASA scientist Linda Spilker.

“In studying Saturn and Saturn’s weather we learn more about our own weather here on the earth. So we make these analogies by studying storm systems around other worlds and that’s where we’re particularly fascinated with this giant storm that only occurs maybe a few times in a century,” she said.

Scientists have also found areas of Saturn’s system that show promise of liquid water, and water leads to life, said Spilker.

“The opportunity to find life on other planets would tell us we’re not alone even if it’s very simple. It allows the imagination to leap forward and say, if there can be life in other planets in our own solar system what about the planets around other stars,” she said.

Another mission with more appropriate equipment will be needed to explore the findings further, Spilker said.

That may be difficult to fund with major cuts to NASA’s budget. To extend the any mission, researchers must argue why their project should continue, she said. The Cassini project currently operates on a $60 million budget.

The spacecraft is scheduled to jump into Saturn’s orbit in 2016. It will record statistics and send them to Earth until it’s eventually pulled into Saturn and destroyed.

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