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Cassini’s Grand Finale: September 7 Lecture with NASA’s Dr. Conor Nixon

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This post was authored by Stephanie Marcus, Science Reference Librarian in the Science, Technology, and Business Division.

Image of Cassini at Saturn.

Now that we’ve had the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, it’s time to move on to the next big event on NASA’s calendar, and that is the Grand Finale of the Cassini-Huygens Mission, a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. Cassini reached Saturn in 2004 and dropped off the ESA’s Huygens probe, which descended through the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan in 2005. After nearly twenty years from launch and thirteen years of incredible encounters and images, the Cassini orbiter will plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15.  Attendees of the lecture will get to hear from one of the team members, Dr. Conor Nixon, just before the dramatic end.  He will cover the highlights of the early mission, as well as the latest news from the grand finale phase.  Dr. Nixon is a space scientist in the Planetary Systems Laboratory at NASA Goddard in Greenbelt, Maryland.  He has worked at NASA since 2000, when he joined the Cassini mission team.  He helped to build and test the Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) instrument on the orbiter and has been busy analyzing the data.

Date:  Thursday, September 7, 2017

Time:  11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Place:  Pickford Theater, 3rd floor, Madison Building

In its grand finale phase, Cassini is making five passes over Saturn, the closest of which will be around a thousand miles above Saturn’s cloud tops.  Cassini’s flybys of Saturn’s moon Titan have prepared the team for its rapid passes through the upper atmosphere, and if the atmosphere is denser or less dense than expected, engineers will increase or decrease the altitude of the orbits around 120 miles with “pop-up” or “pop-down” maneuvers using its thrusters.  On September 11, a distant encounter with Titan will serve as a gravitational version of a large pop-down maneuver, slowing Cassini’s orbit around Saturn and bending its path slightly to send it towards its final plunge. When the spacecraft plunges into the atmosphere, which will be about twice as dense as encountered in the five passes, instruments will be sending their final measurements before contact is lost and Cassini breaks apart and is vaporized. This planned destruction will ensure that the orbiter will never collide with the moons Enceladus and Titan and contaminate them for future studies.

For inquiries about this program, contact Stephanie Marcus in the Science, Technology & Business Division at [email protected] or the division office at: (202) 707-1212. Individuals requiring accommodations for this event are requested to submit a request at least five business days in advance by contacting (202) 707-6362 or [email protected].

The lecture will be later broadcast on the library’s webcast page and YouTube channel “Topics in Science” playlist.


  1. Can not wait!

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