Hubble Extreme Deep Field Poster



At last, on July 1, 2004, the Cassini spacecraft fired off its breaking rocket, glided into orbit around Saturn, and started taking pictures that left scientists in awe. It wasn't as if they hadn't been prepared for such wonders. The weeks leading up to Cassini's arrival at Saturn had served to intensify their already heated anticipation. It seemed as if each approach-picture taken was more enticing than the one preceding it. Dr. Carolyn Porco, a planetary scientist and leader of the Imaging Science team for Cassini, explained to the press in March 2012 that "More than 90 jets of all sizes near Enceladus's south pole are spraying water vapor, icy particles, and organic compounds all over the place. Cassini has flown several times now through this spray and has tasted it. And we have found that aside from water and organic material, there is salt in the icy particles. The salinity is the same as that of Earth's oceans." But there is an important difference. On our own planet, lakes and seas are flowing with water, while Titan's lakes and seas are filled primarily with methane and ethane, that slosh around within these liquid reservoirs. In this never-before-seen cycle, the hydrocarbon molecules evaporate and condense into clouds that send an exotic "rain of terror" back down to this strange moon-world's carbon-slashed surface.