Space Station Info :: Nine Planet Solar System :: Saturn :: Saturn Exploration

Saturn Exploration

Saturn was first visited by Pioneer 11 in 1979. It flew within 20,000 km of the planet's cloudtops. Low-resolution images were acquired of the planet and few of its moons. Resolution was not good enough to discern surface features, however. The spacecraft also studied the rings; among the discoveries were the thin F-ring and the fact that dark gaps in the rings are bright when viewed towards the Sun, or in other words, they are not empty of material. It also measured the temperature of Titan.

Voyager Flybys

Saturn Exploration

In November, 1980, Voyager 1 probe visited the Saturn system. It sent back the first high-resolution images of the planet, rings, and the satellites. Surface features of various moons were seen for the first time. Voyager 1 performed a close flyby of Titan greatly increasing our knowledge of the atmosphere of the moon. However, it also proved that Titan's atmosphere is impenetrable in visible wavelengths, so no surface details were seen. The flyby also changed spacecraft's trajectory out from the plane of the solar system.

Almost a year later, in August, 1981, Voyager 2 continued the study of the Saturn system. More close-up images of Saturn's moons were acquired, as well as evidence of changes in the atmosphere and the rings. Unfortunately, during the flyby, the probe's camera stuck and some planned imaging was lost. Saturn's gravity was used to direct the spacecraft's trajectory towards Uranus. The probes discovered and confirmed several new satellites orbiting near or within the planet's rings. They also discovered the small Maxwell and Keeler gaps.

Cassini Orbiter

On July 1, 2004 the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft performed the SOI (Saturn Orbit Insertion) maneuver and entered into orbit around Saturn. Before the SOI Cassini had already studied the system extensively. In June, 2004, it had conducted a close flyby of Phoebe sending back high-resolution images and data. The orbiter completed two Titan flybys before releasing the Huygens probe on December 25, 2004. Huygens descended onto the surface of Titan on January 14, 2005 sending a flood of data during the atmospheric descent and after the landing. As of 2005, Cassini is conducting multiple flybys of Titan and icy satellites. The primary mission ends in 2008 when the spacecraft has completed 74 orbits around the planet.

Also see about

Physical Characteristics
Saturn Rotation and Revolution
History Of Saturn
Physical Characteristics Of Ring
Exploration Of Saturn
Saturn's Moons