April 26, 2008

New Exhibit Brings Saturn Down to Earth

NEW YORK — Stunning images of Saturn and its
moons will bring the ringed planet down to Earth for visitors at the American Museum of Natural History here starting Saturday.

The new
exhibition "Saturn: Images from the Cassini-Huygens Mission" offers just a
sample of the more than 140,000
beamed back to Earth across half a billion miles by NASA's Cassini

Launched by
NASA in 1997, Cassini became the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn in 2004. The
international Cassini-Huygens mission has spent the past seven years
investigating Saturn's local neighborhood, boosting its moon count from 18 to
more than 60 and capturing the clearest views yet of the planet's famous rings
and violent storms.

The new
exhibit showcases about 50 of the most striking views of the planet and its

images show the Saturn system as we had never seen it before," said Joe
Burns, the exhibit's guest co-curator and a Cassini imaging scientist at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., in a statement. "They
perfectly blend exploration, science and beauty."

More photos
come courtesy of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Huygens lander, which
separated from Cassini on Christmas Day in 2004 and parachuted onto the surface
of Saturn's cloud-covered moon Titan three weeks later.

pictures the first-ever from a moon other than Earth's — show liquid
methane on Titan's surface
, making Saturn's largest moon the only solar
system inhabitant besides Earth known to have surface-flowing liquid. Titan
also boasts a substantial atmosphere that makes it unique among all the moons
in the solar system.

The Cassini-Huygens
mission similarly scoped out giant
geysers of ice
erupting from the smaller icy moon Enceladus, where surface
temperatures hover around -328 degrees Fahrenheit (-200 degrees Celsius). Cassini
a cold shower
from one such geyser during a flyby, allowing the spacecraft
to detect organic molecules on the moon's icy breath that may hint at
possibilities for life.

sections of the museum exhibit cover Saturn and its rings, respectively, while
a third focuses on the moons Titan and Enceladus. The fourth section includes
the rest of Saturn's satellite cornucopia. Visitors can also see a one-quarter
scale model of the nuclear-powered Cassini spacecraft.

announced this month that Cassini will continue its tour of Saturn by extending
the mission
for at least two more years.

and the Italian Space Agency scraped together the $160 million needed to
increase Cassini's lifespan, double the number of orbits around Saturn and
conduct more moon flybys. The space agencies have spent $3.27 billion so far on
the Cassini-Huygens program.

mission's life extension gives scientists the opportunity to try and find
Titan's hidden ocean and examine possibilities of liquid water under the
surface of Enceladus — and may provide some more pretty pictures, too.

Images from the Cassini-Huygens Mission" will show starting April 26, 2008
in the IMAX Corridor on the first floor of the American Museum of Natural
History in New York City, and run through March 29, 2009.