CICLOPS: Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for OPerationS
Captain's Log
February 23, 2022


Recorded on the pages of this website is the story of a daring, robotic expedition to the planet Saturn, its immense empire of dozens of moons, and its vast gleaming disk of icy debris ... all a billion miles and a destiny away from Earth.

The Cassini mission was humanity's first sweeping, in-depth, long-duration scientific exploration of this far-away realm. It became an adventure so magnificent in its rewards, so thrilling in its acrobatics, so momentous in its findings that it held people in its thrall the world over during its 20 years in flight ... from its launch in the fall of 1997, through its insertion into Saturn orbit in the summer of 2004,
to its fiery plunge into the planet's atmosphere in late 2017.

While its predecessor, Voyager, went far and wide, coursing through the houses of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune on its way to interstellar space, Cassini went deep and long. Its primary assignment: comb the Saturnian environment, zoom in closer on those bodies and phenomena that were already known, spy intently for anything previously unnoticed, and keep all within its senses under close watch, with far greater precision and completeness than had been possible during the brief Voyager flybys in 1980 and 1981.

And that is exactly what Cassini's scientists and engineers did. The account of the Imaging Team's survey of the Saturnian system and our discoveries there, told here in imagery, video, graphics, descriptive text, artwork, and technical scientific reports, is not surprisingly a lengthy chronicle of events with a repeating, recognizable signature: Methodical observation, breathtaking vistas, and painstaking analyses that yielded scientific gold, played out over and over again. Often on the heels of one exquisitely close moon flyby, or passage through an especially revealing geometry for viewing the planet's rings or its largest moon, Titan, came another encounter of equal measure. The pace was often exhausting. The outcome was always a moment of triumph.

This website was first established in 1999, a year before our gravity-assist flyby of Jupiter, for the purpose of logging the mission's highlights and our reactions to them. As stated in my first Captain's Log, the aim was to create a space where my team members and I could present our discoveries to the world as they were happening, and invite all of you to follow along and feel for yourselves that extraordinary thrill of discovery that drove many of us years ago to seek a life exploring other worlds.

The Imaging Team, as well as those dedicated souls at CICLOPS who engineered the imaging uplink and downlink operations, have long since disbanded, and this website has now been recast into its final legacy form. As it exists today is the way it will exist forevermore. The required conversion, from a dynamic site, built one page at a time with information extracted from various databases, to a static one requiring no on-the-fly computation, presented a formidable challenge. With no funding for such work, I called upon my followers on social media and asked for volunteers. Gratefulness and a big shout-out were all I had to offer.

Many times have I said that I've led a charmed existence, and once again, the Universe looked kindly upon me. A group of superbly skilled individuals, composing, by sheer good fortune, a team with the optimum distribution of expertise, graciously came to the fore and offered their time and talents to ensure the legacy of all that is found on these pages and more. We, the beneficiaries, are forever in their debt. As a result of their generosity, today I can happily proclaim, CICLOPS LIVES!

As you browse now among the treasures on display here from those breathless years past, bear in mind that in the aggregate, the findings we made in Cassini imagery form an evolving narrative whose chapters were written as events unfolded. Only in a chronological reading does it become clear how the initial impressions of what we had witnessed gave way, months and years later, with either follow-on imagery or information gathered by Cassini's other instruments, to a clearer, more rigorous vision.

Some moments in this saga are unforgettable, like the night we entered Saturn orbit, when arrival at a destination that had been, for 14 years, only a graphic on a screen, and gazing there upon sights no human had seen in such exquisite detail before, was the profoundly overwhelming experience one might expect it to be.

Another was our first high-resolution sighting of the jets erupting from the south polar terrain of Saturn's small icy moon, Enceladus, in November 2005. The ensuing analysis, published in early 2006, indicated these were geysers, sourced in liquid water, possibly only meters below the surface. This particular result made the front page of the NY Times!

How deep the water layer extended, we couldn't say. But in the years that followed, we continued our imaging campaigns, other Cassini science teams contributed their results, and we all played leap frog from thereon, the picture growing more complete and vivid with each leap. Not until all the data were in hand did it become clear we had found a global subterranean water ocean laced with organic materials and hints of seafloor hydrothermal activity spraying into space ... the most accessible extraterrestrial habitable zone in all the solar system.

There are many such page-turning episodes in this story. The Imaging Team's discovery of a feature at Titan's south pole in June 2005, that we named Ontario Lacus and presented as the best candidate for a lake on Titan, was a dramatic start to another. Our claim was confirmed by our own observation of a similar-looking but much larger, sea-sized feature, Kraken Mare, in Titan's north polar region in early 2007 and inferences made soon thereafter of the presence of liquid methane and ethane in both northern and southern bodies by the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) and Radar teams.

And on it goes. The shallow but extensive ripples crossing the inner Saturnian rings whose explanation was key to solving the mystery of similar features in Jupiter's ring; the energy source that powers the jet streams in Saturn's atmosphere; the groundbreaking discovery that first proved Enceladus' geysers were causing the excess heat observed in coincident small-scale hot spots and not vice versa; the undulations in Saturn's outer B ring whose study yielded the first observation seen in nature of a phenomenon long believed to underlie the spiral structure in galaxies; monitoring the giant storm in Saturn's northern hemisphere; the interpretation of Iapetus' strange piebald coloration; and much more.

All told, Cassini's time at Saturn makes for a remarkable tale of revelation, transformation, and triumph ... one in which I am enormously proud to have played a part, and one I am certain you will enjoy following here.

Some noteworthy 'extras' have been posted among these pages to make your visit here more informative, enjoyable, and perhaps even heartwarming. These are press-released images, with their captions, from other outer Solar System missions, like Voyager, Galileo, and New Horizons to provide comparative planetary context for our discoveries at Saturn. You'll find special tributes to some of my personal heroes, like John Lennon, on the occasion of his 60th birthday, Paul McCartney on the occasion of his 64th birthday, the Beatles in June 2001 on no particular occasion at all, and renowned planetary geologist and fellow Voyager imaging scientst, Gene Shoemaker, whose ashes went to the Moon on my initiative. I hope these raise a smile in your wanderings around this site.

One component of this site which I proudly claim as an original is a gallery devoted to the work of the day's most renowned astronomical artists. Never before, in an historic, flagship interplanetary enterprise like Cassini, had the imaginations of artists been consistently tapped to fill in the missing details in the vicarious experience of 'being there'. As I say in the introduction to the Artroom, astronomical artists and planetary explorers are kindred souls, "romantics, dreamers, and explorers .... ever yearning, ever seeking, ever hopeful." I am delighted still to have their contributions grace the pages of this website.

In its rich scientific offerings, and the insights we have gained from them, about Saturn, its environs, and by extension the other worlds in orbit around our Sun, and as part of the larger undertaking that began in 1958 and saw humanity extend its reach with robotic explorers throughout the solar system, Cassini has taken its position as a major cornerstone in the edifice of knowledge constructed by humanity's 6-decade-long explorations beyond our home planet. It has enriched our understanding of the forces that made the Saturnian system, our own solar system and, by extension, other planetary and stellar systems throughout the cosmos what they are today. It will surely be remembered in history as one of the most scientifically productive interplanetary missions ever to fly.

As the years go by, it is to this site and the wonders found herein that I will return when I want to be transported again to that far-flung world it took so long to reach, a world our distant ancestors did not yet even know, a world where we on Cassini spent many years of our lives making possible one small but glorious step in humanity's coming of age as interplanetary explorers.

And it is to this site that I will return when I want to be reminded that, though choosing one path in life leaves a thousand others untraveled, eclipsing futures we will never know, the path I chose was one that led me to a place wherefrom I can now glimpse, at will, with clarity, reverence, and deep gratitude, the significance of our existence on Planet Earth.

My sincere wish, to share that precious glimpse with all of you, is the longing that binds the pages of this website.


Carolyn Porco
Cassini Imaging Team Leader
Visiting Scholar, UC Berkeley, CA

More Captain's Logs