In the Land of Enchantment: Cassini Explores the Saturn System

Thursday, Feb. 9, 8 p.m.
Smith Auditorium, Willamette University

Carolyn Porco is an American planetary scientist known for her work in the exploration of the outer solar system, beginning with her imaging work on the Voyager missions to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune in the 1980s. She leads the imaging science team on the Cassini mission now in orbit around Saturn, and is an imaging scientist on the New Horizons mission launched to Pluto on Jan. 19, 2006.

In her Atkinson Lecture, Porco will highlight the discoveries made so far by the Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004, and its Huygens probe, which landed on Saturn’s Titan moon. The project marks the first landing ever accomplished in the outer solar system, and the enchanting images and ground-breaking data returned by the mission have given scientists unique insight into the nature of this alien planetary system.

Porco has co-authored more than 100 scientific papers in the planetary sciences, including a large suite of results on the atmosphere, satellites and rings of Saturn from the Cassini imaging experiment.

Winner of the Carl Sagan Medal for her skill at communicating scientific exploration to the general public, Porco has been a regular CNN guest analyst on astronomy and planetary exploration; has appeared on numerous television programs, including “60 Minutes” and Peter Jennings’ documentary “The Century”; and has written popular science articles in a variety of publications, including The Guardian, The Sunday Times (London), Sky & Telescope, New Statesman and Scientific American.

She also has worked in Hollywood — as the science advisor on the 2009 film “Star Trek,” and as the character consultant on the 1997 movie “Contact,” based on the novel by Carl Sagan, who personally invited Porco to consult on the film.

Porco created the CICLOPS website, where Cassini images are posted for public consumption, and she is CEO of Diamond Sky Productions, a company devoted to the scientific and artful use of planetary images and computer graphics for the presentation of science to the public.


  • Current: Director of the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for OPerationS (CICLOPS), Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.; adjunct professor, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Past: Member of Voyager Imaging Team; professor, University of Arizona Department of Planetary Sciences

Awards and Honors

  • Carl Sagan Medal for Excellence in the Communication of Science to the Public, 2010
  • Lennart Nilsson Award for excellence in scientific photography, 2009  
  • One of 'The 50 People Who Matter Today', New Statesman, UK, 2009
  • Isaac Asimov Science Award, 2008
  • One of 15 people the President of the United States should listen to, Wired Magazine, 2008
  • One of 18 scientific leaders of the 21st century, The Sunday Times (London), 1999
  • Asteroid Porco 7231 named in her honor

Carolyn Porco: Planetary scientist
Carolyn Porco: Planetary scientist

"Saturn's moon Tethys orbits in front of the wide shadows cast by the rings onto the planet for this Cassini view."

-Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations

"Saturn's third-largest moon, Dione, can be seen through the haze of the planet's largest moon, Titan, in this view of the two posing before the planet and its rings from NASA's Cassini spacecraft." 

- Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations