On Wednesday, October 15, 1997, at 4:43 a.m. EDT, the Cassini-Huygens probe was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It’s destination: Saturn. It first took orbit around the beautiful ringed planet on June 30, 2004. Four years later, the mission was over. At least its initial mission.
Following its success (Huygens actually pierced the atmosphere of Saturn’s largest moon, the mysteriously cloud-shrouded Titan, landing on its surface and surviving mere minutes), NASA extended its mission. The four-year Equinox Mission ended in 2008. Yet, Cassini lived on. Its next mission, The Solstice Mission, has been extended until 2017.
Aside from the obvious science that the mission is providing astronomers, it is also providing the public with stunning images of what is widely considered the jewel of our solar system. Most recently, Cassini aimed its sites at the north pole, specifically a swirling storm that had been hidden from the probe since its arrival in 2004. The north pole is also home to the famous hexagon, a storm that has taken on the peculiar shape due to what scientists believe is a jet stream that moves at 354 kilometres per hour.
Below is a fantastic video that NASA’s Cassini Imaging and Central Laboratory for Operations (CICLOPS) shared. The seven images were taken in 2012 over five hours. That is NOT a storm you want to be caught in (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI).