CICLOPS: Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for OPerationS

Captain's Log

December 24, 2007

So another year around Saturn is coming to a close, and by anyone's measure it has been a momentous time of adventure and revelation. In the last year alone, we have soared high above Saturn and its companions, have been rewarded with unprecedented views of the rings, have peered into the northern polar region of Titan to find bodies of liquid hydrocarbons as big as the Mediterranean Sea, and have skimmed the rugged surface of Iapetus to glimpse its lofty mountain peaks and divine, at long last, the origin of its two-toned countenance. We have learned what powers the jet streams in the planet's atmosphere, found yet another tiny moon lurking among the bigger Saturnian satellites, affirmed that the jets of Enceladus are indeed coming from the hottest locales on the moon's 'tiger stripe' fractures, and deconstructed the figures and origins of the small moons skirting the outer limits of Saturn's rings. All told, not too bad for a year's work. If this were all we had found, it would be a proud legacy indeed.

And our story is not over. Next year, starting in March, we will make several daring plunges over the surface of Enceladus and through its plume of vapor and icy particles. These maneuvers will take us deep into the plume and allow many of Cassini's instrument teams to improve their measurements of the region's properties. The heat-sensing instrument will map the terrain's thermal emission over a wider area than before in search of additional hot spots, and the instrument capable of sniffing out the plume's composition will improve tenfold its measurements of the plume's molecular concentrations. All of us are eager to learn if we are correct in suspecting that organic-rich, liquid water reservoirs are truly the sources of the moon's dramatic geologic activity.

And the end of Cassini's prime mission, in July of next year, will find us sailing even closer to the north pole of Saturn than ever before, allowing views of the rings more detailed than any we have yet acquired (with the exception of the series of images we collected immediately after the Saturn Orbit Insertion). Saturn's rings have stunned us with their rich, dynamic detail, and we expect to be wowed by what we will find in them next year.

In celebration of a spectacular 4 years at Saturn, and 3.5 years in orbit, and to mark the close of yet another outstanding year of exploration, the imaging team is releasing today two beautiful colorful views of Saturn. We imaging scientists never tire of seeing this gorgeous giant, or watching the slow solemn movement of its rings' shadows across its pastel-hued globe. We suspect our visitors feel the same.

We are also taking this opportunity to update our website... with some of the scientific papers and meeting abstracts that have been published by the imaging team in the last year, with the publicly released images from the Galileo mission long ago, and with the recently released images from the New Horizons flyby of Jupiter earlier this year. Now it is easier than ever to wander the frozen reaches of the outer solar system, and compare Cassini's images with those of Saturn's sibling outer planets, while never leaving the CICLOPS website.

Finally, do not leave this site today before you have voted for your favorite Cassini image! You have 6 more days to cast your vote, and to tell everyone else you know about the opportunity to win a poster of the winning image (or an image of your choice). Let's spread the word far and wide that humankind has undertaken a bold exploratory adventure around an alien far-flung planet, and we have been gloriously triumphant. In a time when bad news abounds, it's a feel-good message that's worth spreading.

In closing, we on the Cassini imaging team and at CICLOPS wish you all a very happy holiday season. And if recent history is any precedent, we can all look forward to an awesome and spectacular new year in 2008.

Carolyn Porco
Cassini Imaging Team Leader
CICLOPS
Boulder, CO