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December 17, 2012 - Cassini: Man and Machine

Cassini: Man and Machine The Cassini spacecraft, orbiting Saturn since 2004, was named after Giovanni Cassini, an astronomer at the Panzano Observatory in Bologna who in 1671 became director of the Paris Observatory. A talented observer, Cassini made numerous contributions to the understanding of the solar system. He made direct measurements of the distance to Mars, co-discovered Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, was the first to see the gap in Saturn’s rings that now bears his name, and discovered four of Saturn’s moons. One of those moons, Rhea, he discovered 340 years ago this week. Rhea is an icy moon covered with large and small impact craters. Its surface displays a marked color difference from north to south, a characteristic that is exaggerated in this 2007 false-color image from the Cassini spacecraft.

Image credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute

Weekly Calendar

December 17-23, 2012

Holidays - Sky Events - Space History

Moon phase Monday 17

Mercury 6° north of Antares

1903: First powered flight, by Orville Wright
1979: First successful test of all three Space Shuttle main engines
2012: GRAIL A & B spacecraft impact Moon

Moon phase Tuesday 18

Neptune 6° south of Moon
Ceres at opposition

1999: Terra spacecraft launched

Moon phase Wednesday 19

1960: MR-1A launched, first Mercury capsule
1961: CNES founded
1966: United Nations approves Outer Space Treaty
1999: STS-103 Discovery launched
2012: Soyuz TMA-07M launched carrying ISS Expedition 34/35 crew

Moon phase Thursday 20

First Quarter Moon 12:19 AM ET
Uranus 5° south of Moon

1904: Mount Wilson Solar Observatory founded
1972: Final M2-F3 lifting body flight
1978: Venera 12 lander lands on Venus
2009Soyuz TMA-17 launched carrying ISS Expedition 22/23 crew

Moon phase Friday 21

Winter Solstice 6:12 AM ET

1968: Apollo 8 launched
: Vega 2 launched
: Cosmonauts Titov and Manarov return after spending one year aboard Mir space station
2011Soyuz TMA-03M launched carrying ISS Expedition 30/31 crew

Moon phase Saturday 22

Juno in conjunction with Sun
Ursid meteor shower

1966: Luna 13 launched
1966: First glide test of the HL-10 lifting body

Moon phase Sunday 23

Venus 6° north of Antares
Ursid meteor shower

1672: Giovanni Cassini discovers Saturn’s moon Rhea

Suggestions for new history dates or better links? Corrections for errors on this page? Please e-mail me.