Flamsteed Astronomy Society

Flamsteed Star Lecture 2007 — Prof. Carl Murray

“Rings & Things:  What Cassini did next”

Carl Murray held the Flamsteed audience spell-bound... again!   On his previous visit in November 2004 we had been captivated by the sheer brilliance of the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and its moons.  Everything about Cassini-Huygens is breathtaking — the mission capability, the science, and especially the images.   It’s impossible not to be inspired by the achievement in which UK scientists are playing a major role.  And Carl communicates it all with calm clarity and a touch of impish humour.   Great stuff.

The Cassini-Huygens mission took 7 years to plan and build, travelled through the solar system for 7 years to get from the Earth to Saturn, and has been orbiting in the Saturn system for almost 3 years.  Another 3 years are hoped for.

Carl’s update for us covered an entire spread of mission activities — Titan and the Huygens landing; the odd moons; and the intriguing behaviour of the ring system.  Carl’s special interest is the F-ring and, with the Imaging Team, he continues to pry new revelations from the images and data about the interactions between the rings and the moons.

The Titan landing animation created from Huygens’ images, is stunning.  Why go to Titan?  Titan is a bit like Earth before the emergence of life.  Nitrogen-Methane atmosphere, evidence of liquid (methane-ethane?).  Cassini has been able to watch changes over 4 years.

The amazing moons — sponge-like, tumbling Hyperion; Iapetus (significant in the book version of ‘2001: A space odyssey’) with its walnut ridge and bright and dark hemispheres; tiny Polydeuces; strange re-surfaced Enceladus and its relationship to the E-ring.  Could there be liquid water on Enceladus?

Carl concluded his talk with some fascinating peeks at the new objects being studied around the system, and their interactions with the rings.  He lifted the curtain (drapes?) a little on some of the latest work — I could tell you, but then, sadly, he would have to shoot me.

His final image is truly inspirational — a distant bright dot (smudge?) glimpsed through Saturns’ rings:  the Earth-Moon double-planet!  Mind blowing that, away off on that distant world, creatures developed capable of building this awesome space ship, sending it across the solar system for 7 years, to take a picture of home.

    Cassini-Huygens Gallery


Click on each thumbnail for the NASA webpage — to return use the back button on your browser  (All these images courtesy NASA/JPL/ Space Science Institute)

The Earth-Moon system from Saturn

Click on the thumbnail for the NASA webpage — to return use the back button on your browser 

(courtesy NASA/JPL/ Space Science Institute)

Prof. Carl Murray

Queen Mary, University of London (pics: Mike Dryland)

Carl has generously donated his fee for this

Flamsteed Star Lecture to the Cutty Sark appeal.