Four Centuries of Discovery


Backlit Saturn
Backlit Saturn

I received a wonderfully written email today from Cassini Team Leader Carolyn Porco about the “100 Hours of Astronomy” event and how the Cassini team is joining the celebration by honoring the 4ooth year anniversary of Galileo’s first look at Saturn through his groundbreaking invention: the astronomical telescope. Here’s the note:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Four hundred years ago this year, Galileo Galilei first used the newly-invented telescope to peer at the heavens with a level of detail that had not previously been possible.  With that simple act, he flung open a window on a new era in our understanding of the cosmos and our place within it.

In a global re-enactment of Galileo’s seminal achievement, hundreds of thousands of telescopes across the Earth will turn this Saturday night, April 4, in unison to the night sky to gaze at the Moon and a gleaming planet Saturn.

As our contribution to, and in support of, this event, and in celebration of Galileo, we have collected together, in one place, some of the most moving, magnificent and scientifically significant images, movies and discoveries that have been acquired by Cassini’s high resolution cameras over the last five years.

Go to ……  to join in the celebration.


Carolyn Porco
Cassini Imaging Team Leader
Boulder, CO

The website has a compiled list – “Captain’s Logs” – of some of the best-of-the-best from the Cassini mission, from its exciting start to its most recent images. Visit the site and take a look through the posts….it’s a great reminder of all the amazing discoveries the Cassini mission team has made over the past few years. It’s almost as if you’re experiencing the downloading of the images for the first time!

One of my favorite Captain’s Logs is from June 30, 2008 entitled “Mission Accomplished”. Posted exactly four years after the Cassini spacecraft’s insertion into orbit around Saturn, the article proclaims the Cassini mission a success, as its goals were more than 100% accomplished and it was beginning a new phase of exploration of the Saturn system with the extended Equinox mission. Carolyn wrote:

There is of course plenty more to come. Cassini is a robust and capable craft and will continue its work with ease. Officially, its mission has been extended for two years, during which Saturn, in its orbit around the Sun, will pass through equinox in August 2009. At that time, seen from Saturn, the Sun will pass northward through the ringplane and spring will arrive in the northern hemisphere. In concert, the ring shadows will slip from north to south, and our views of Saturn will begin to resemble those seen by Voyager 29 years earlier. For many of us, it will be a very sentimental time.

Written nearly a year ago, we are now seeing the long shadows of Saturn’s moons traveling across its rings as the spring equinox nears closer every day. The August 11 date should bring some fantastic images as the rings are perfectly illuminated edge-on.

From Galileo’s early telescope to the CCD cameras and thrusters of Cassini, Saturn has been a source of wonder, beauty and inspiration for 400 years. Every discovery leads to new questions and curiosities…here’s to another 400 years of innovative exploration by the world’s best minds! May all the questions never be answered.


Thanks Carolyn, and the entire Cassini team. Old Galileo would have been proud.


Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

One Comment

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