July 2, 2004

Cassini Briefing

JPL'S KEVIN GRAZIER APPEARED on PBS's Newshour last night to be interviewed by Ray Suarez on the meaning and achievement of Cassini. Here's a excerpt from a fascinating exchange.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, what were the major areas of investigation, the things that we really needed to know about Saturn, that Cassini is designed to find out?
KG:The moon Titan - let's start with Titan. Titan is the only moon in the solar system with an appreciable atmosphere. When I say appreciable, I mean that if you were standing on the surface of Titan, the pressure on you would be the equivalent of one and a half times our atmosphere or the equivalent of being 15 feet below the ocean if you were a scuba diver.

Now, that atmosphere has thick, dense orange clouds that we have yet to be able to see through - at least not well. We're fairly certain that with the Cassini spacecraft we will see through those clouds to the surface below and now see the largest unmapped solid surface in the solar system. That moon, Titan, has an atmosphere that we think is like Earth's atmosphere was three point eight - four billion years ago. That atmosphere gave rise to life on Earth, so in some senses we think by understanding Titan we are looking at the early Earth in a deep freeze and studies of Titan can actually have, we believe, implications for the formation of life on Earth.

Posted by Vanderleun at July 2, 2004 4:59 AM
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