Saturn and Cassini
I am continually amazed by the data that streams back to us from the numerous satellites and spacecraft we have flying through space. I have particularly been enjoying what the Cassini craft has been discovering about one of our most spectacular planets, Saturn.
Maybe it’s because I really really like the name Cassini. This craft was named for astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, born in 1625. According to Wikipedia he was an Italian/French mathematician, astronomer, engineer, and astrologer. He is in the illustrious line of astronomers in history who allowed us to have the knowledge we now have about the night sky.
The Cassini has been functioning at its optimum health since it arrived at Saturn in 2004 after a seven year journey across the solar system. NASA has a great site explaining Cassini’s ongoing missions here.
Since Saturn is visible in the night sky right now in the constellation of Virgo, be sure to get out and take a peek. Here’s how to find it:
Look for the Big Dipper in the north. Then follow the curve of the Dipper’s handle until you find the very bright red star Arcturus (“arc to Arcturus”). Continue on this line toward the south, where you’ll find the bright blue/white star Spica (“spike to Spica”). The only other bright object in this part of the sky, westward from Spica, is Saturn. Even in the smallest backyard telescopes you can see the rings of Saturn.
Larger scopes will resolve details on Saturn’s surface. If the timing is right you can even see transits of some of Saturn’s moons! They will appear as shadows on the surface of this spectacular gas giant.
Enjoy these warm summer nights under the stars, and remember, keep looking up!