Space mission extended

Nasa is to extend the international Cassini-Huygens mission by two years, to include 60 additional orbits of Saturn and more flybys of its moons. UK researchers have played a key role in the mission instruments and the scientific discoveries, which have altered knowledge of Saturn and its moons.

The mission will include 26 flybys of Titan, seven of Enceladus and one each of Dione, Rhea and Helene. It also includes studies of Saturn’s rings, its complex magnetosphere, and the planet itself. Researchers believe from existing findings that liquid water may be just below the surface of Saturn’s moon, Eceladus. In an extended mission the spacecraft may fly 15 miles from the moon’s surface.

Professor Michele Dougherty, a principal investigator based at Imperial College, said: ‘Cassini has made many exciting and unexpected discoveries from rings around the moon Rhea to new moons with surprising complex features.’

She added: ‘Amazing discoveries like this not only answer many of the questions we have about these complex worlds but pose new mysteries for us to solve.’

Further work will enhance and extend what has been learned from existing data. The extended mission will also monitor seasons on Titan and Saturn, observe unique ring events and explore new places within Saturn’s magnetosphere.