Science Lecture Offers Virtual Journey to Saturn via Cassini Spacecraft Images

El Vaquero Staff Writer

The college was taken on a 2-billion-mile journey to Saturn by Trina L. Ray, the Senior System Engineer for the Cassini Science Planning at JPL on Nov. 22.

Ray, who holds a master’s degree in astronomy and has been working for JPL since 1989, provided an overview of the mission and the Cassini spacecraft in an hour-long lecture combined with a projection of pictures of Saturn and its moons. The presentation was a part of the Science Lecture Series.

Equipped with 12 scientific instruments and cameras, this 20-foot-tall spacecraft was launched on Oct. 15, 1997 and “took seven years to get to Saturn,” said Ray. Under watchful eyes of over 250 scientists from 17 different countries, Cassini, along with its Huygens Titan probe, traveled approximately two billion miles between Earth and Saturn.

According to the speaker, one of the major problems the spacecraft faced was the sun’s immense gravitational pull. “When you’re trying to get to Saturn, you fight the sun all the way there,” said Ray.
Having made a couple of loops around the Sun and using Titan’s gravitational assist, Cassini “went into [Saturn’s] orbit in July 2004,” Ray said.

After being ejected from Cassini in December 2004, the Huygens probe began its 20-day descent through Titan’s cloudy atmosphere. During the nearly 2ยด hour-long descent, the probe gathered information about the moon’s atmosphere. The probe survived the journey through the clouds and landed near the moon’s frozen equator, where it continued to operate for a few minutes before losing communication with the Cassini spacecraft and the scientists on Earth.

It is expected to remain in Saturn’s orbit and stream back images of the planet and its surroundings for the next four years. The main objectives of the Cassini-Huygens mission are Titan, Saturn, the planet’s rings, its icy satellites and its magnetosphere.
According to Ray approximately 30,000 images have been taken and transmitted to date by the Cassini-Huygens cameras. She described the images gathered by the two spacecrafts as “absolutely amazing.” They have revealed geologically active surface of Titan; the moon’s atmospheric composition; and an equatorial bulge, referred to as “Belly Band,” on another one of Saturn’s moons, Iapetus.
For more information about the mission, and to view some of the images of Saturn, its rings, and its moons, visit

The GCC Science Lecture Series is going to offer another lecture on the Cassini mission during the spring semester. Other topics covered in the spring lecture series will cover high-speed computing, polio vaccine development, and healthy living.