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Planetary Scientist Carolyn Porco shares images of Saturn during the Atkinson Lecture Series Thursday at Willamette University.Planetary Scientist Carolyn Porco shares images of Saturn during the Atkinson Lecture Series Thursday at Willamette University.

Saturn, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting the planet since 2004.Saturn, as seen by the Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting the planet since 2004.

Details of Saturn's rings are seen here through a photo taken by the Cassini spacecraft.Details of Saturn's rings are seen here through a photo taken by the Cassini spacecraft.

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Planetary Scientist Carolyn Porco shares striking photos of Saturn's moons, rings


When Carolyn Porco spoke at Willamette University Thursday night, she promised to tell a story of “one of the greatest scientific adventures humanity has ever taken.”

And she did.

Cassini is a story about longing,” Porco says. “It’s a longing to know about ourselves… to learn where we are and where we are going.”

Porco, an American planetary scientist, visited Willamette through the Atkinson Lecture Series. Before a crowd of several hundred students, faculty and community members at Smith Auditorium, she shared some of the startling discoveries made by the Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004.

So far, Porco has learned Saturn’s rings consist mostly of fine ice particles, and the planet’s skies are “literally spangled with moons.” Cassini images depict icy plumes erupting from the surface of Saturn’s moon, Enceladus; others trace coastal shores along Titan’s liquid methane seas.

“There was something very peculiar about it,” Porco says about her first impression of Titan. “It’s dark. It’s eerie. It’s impossibly cold … What we found on Titan has been fascinating. It’s a place that at the same time is exotic and alien, yet strangely familiar.”

During her career, Porco has performed imaging work on the Voyager missions to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. She has written for such publications as The Guardian, Sky & Telescope and Scientific American, and she is an imaging scientist on the New Horizons mission launched to Pluto in 2006.



02-10-2012