NASA extends Cassini mission to Saturn by 2 years

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Washington, April 16 : NASA has decided to extend the international Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn by two years, which might reveal further information about the planet.

Cassini's mission originally had been scheduled to end in July 2008.

The newly-announced two-year extension will include 60 additional orbits of Saturn and more flybys of its exotic moons.

These will include 26 flybys of Titan, seven of Enceladus, and one each of Dione, Rhea and Helene. The extension also includes studies of Saturn's rings, its complex magnetosphere, and the planet itself.

According to Jim Green, director, Planetary Science Division, NASA Headquarters, Washington, "This extension is not only exciting for the science community, but for the world to continue to share in unlocking Saturn's secrets."

"New discoveries are the hallmarks of its success, along with the breathtaking images beamed back to Earth that are simply mesmerizing," he added.

So far, the spacecraft's stunning discoveries and images have revolutionized our knowledge of Saturn and its moons.

Based on findings from Cassini, scientists think liquid water may be just beneath the surface of Saturn's moon, Enceladus.

That's why the small moon, only one-tenth the size of Titan and one-seventh the size of Earth's moon, is one of the highest-priority targets for the extended mission.

Cassini also discovered geysers of water-ice jetting from the Enceladus' surface. The geysers, which shoot out at a distance three times the diameter of Enceladus, feed particles into Saturn's most expansive ring.

In the extended mission, the spacecraft may come as close as 15 miles from the moon's surface.

Another highlight of Cassini's mission has been its observations of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, which has given scientists a glimpse of what Earth might have been like before life evolved.

In fact, the scientists now believe Titan possesses many parallels to Earth, including lakes, rivers, channels, dunes, rain, snow, clouds, mountains and possibly volcanoes.

"When we designed the original tour, we really did not know what we would find, especially at Enceladus and Titan," said Dennis Matson, the JPL Cassini project scientist.

"This extended tour is responding to these new discoveries and giving us a chance to look for more," he added.

As part of the extended tour, activities for Cassini scientists will include monitoring seasons on Titan and Saturn, observing unique ring events, such as the 2009 equinox when the sun will be in the plane of the rings, and exploring new places within Saturn's magnetosphere.

ANI

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