The battleships of yore were built to last. Big, rugged, and sophisticated, they could take a beating and still get the job done.
A Space Age "battleship" is orbiting the planet Saturn. It arrived at the Saturn system five years ago today, when it flew near a distant moon known as Phoebe.
Most planetary missions of the last 15 years have been fairly small and simple. But Cassini is a big, rugged, sophisticated spacecraft for studying a giant planet, with a suite of a dozen scientific instruments.
And it's made some big discoveries.
It's given us our first look at the surface of Saturn's biggest moon, Titan. It's found lakes of liquid methane, and riverbeds that were carved by flowing methane. It's photographed ice dunes as tall as skyscrapers, and detected clouds in the cold, thick atmosphere. It even dropped a probe that landed on Titan, showing us a frozen landscape.
Cassini also discovered geysers of liquid water shooting into space from the moon Enceladus. Its detailed observations of Saturn's rings have led scientists to reconsider how and when the rings formed.
And it's given us remarkable views of Saturn itself -- giant storms, and a "hexagon" of clouds around the north pole. It's heard the crackle of lightning. And it's watched as northern winter changes to spring.
Cassini's completed its main mission, and is half way through a two-year extension. It continues to give us giant views of a giant planet.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009
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