Philosophical Society of Washington

Cassini: A Distant Outpost for Exploration

F. Michael Flasar
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

2235th Meeting Abstract
Friday, March 14, 2008 at 8:15 PM


With its instruments selected in 1990, it itself launched in 1997, arriving at Saturn in July 2004 and jettisoning a probe named Huygens onto Titan at the end of that year, Cassini represents a long-term endeavor in planetary exploration. This talk provides an overview of this amazing observatory, the questions it was sent to answer, and the surprises it sent back. It will stress Saturn and its giant moon Titan. On Saturn, there are new mysteries: How fast does Saturn’s interior really spin? Have its rapid (475 m/s) equatorial winds slowed by nearly half the last few years? What are the giant storms that seem to be solidly planted over both poles? Titan, with a molecular nitrogen atmosphere, is an Earth analog, but rich in organics. It has a hydrological cycle, and its surface exhibits channels and “lakes” that are likely associated with liquefied natural gas. Its middle atmosphere rotates over ten times faster than its surface, quite unlike Earth, but its strong winter circumpolar winds have many of the same properties associated with the terrestrial ozone holes.

Michael Flasar

About the Author:

F. Michael Flasar received the Ph.D. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1972. After time as a research fellow at Harvard University, he came to Goddard Space flight Center in 1975. His primary research is the dynamic meteorology of planetary atmospheres, including those of Mars, the giant planets, and Saturn’s moon Titan. He was a co-investigator on the Voyager infrared spectroscopy experiment (IRIS), a member of the Galileo Radio Propagation team, and a Participating Scientist on the Mars Global Surveyor Radio Science team. Currently, he is a member of the Cassini Radio Science team and the principal investigator of the Cassini Composite Infrared Spectroscopy experiment. He is a member of the American Geophysical Union, the American Astronomical Society, and the AAS/Division for Planetary Sciences.

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