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Cassini Scientist For A Day Essay Contest Scholarships

Article by: NMathers. Written on 1st December 2011

Australian Cassini Scientist for a Day Essay Contest Winners Announced

VSSEC is pleased to announce the winners of the 2011 Australian Cassini Scientist for a Day Essay Contest.
Students were asked to consider three targets proposed by the NASA Cassini Team and write an essay advocating the target they think should be selected.
From the quality of the essays received, Australia has a very bright future in Astronomy and Space Science.

The 2011 winners are:

Year 5/6: Annalise Donohue from Genazzano FCJ College

Year 7/8: Cecilia Rafanan from Caroline Chisholm Catholic College

Year 9/10: Alicia Chen from Genazzano FCJ College

Year 11/12: Jarrod Kimpton from Wallan Secondary College

The category winners have earned the opportunity to submit questions which will be put to the Cassini Team during a live webcast.
They will also meet learn more about Astronomy in Australia thanks to unique experiences offered by ANU Research School of Astronomy and
Astrophysics, CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science, Australian Astronomical Observatory, Macquarie University and VSSEC.

Year 5/6: Annalise Donohue from Genazzano FCJ College
Target Selected: Saturn

I believe that Saturn should be photographed because many people only know about its rings and nothing else.
Saturn is the second of the 4 gas giants. Like Jupiter it gives off more heat than it gets from the sun. But unlike Jupiter,
it has a magnificent set of rings, and it's so light that it would float in water - if you could find a bath big enough!
Saturn is about 120,000 km across. It takes 29.46 years to go around the Sun. Like Jupiter, it spins very rapidly -
the day lasts for 10 hours and 39 minutes. It has a similar structure to Jupiter. It has a solid core, which is surrounded
by a shell of solid hydrogen, which is in turn surrounded by a shell of liquid hydrogen, and then the giant shell of atmosphere.

Saturn's rings probably formed when things like comets, asteroids or even moons that broke
up in orbit around Saturn due to Saturn's very strong gravity.
The pieces of these objects kept colliding with each other and broke into even smaller pieces.
These pieces gradually spread around Saturn to form its rings.

I know there are many storms on Saturn and if we
decide to photograph Saturn we could find out how the storms are formed,
how they started & what damage is caused by the storms. This knowledge could be improved if we took more photographs of Saturn.
E.g. it’s five hundred times bigger than any anything like it observed by the Cassini Mission in the last two years.
It’s encompassing approximately 2 billion square miles (4 billion square kilometers) of Saturn’s surface.
Its releasing lightning bolts at a rate of ten per second and it's happening ten times more frequently than other storms
monitored since 2004. It's so intense that's its even visible in larger amateur telescopes. Just what is it? A Saturn Super
Storm… Why, why did this happen? How did it happen? What did it do? These are all the big questions & we need to answer these.
We can by taking more photographs of Saturn.

I hope you take this and consider taking more photos of Saturn.

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Year 7/8: Cecilia Rafanan from Caroline Chisholm Catholic College

Target Selected: Hyperion

Most often, people recognise a moon for its spherical, smooth and creamy white colour,
but Saturn's fourth moon, Hyperion, has undeniably defied this statement. Its mysteries that are yet to be discovered are
beyond compare from the other two targets. Hence, this will not only be a ‘once-in-a-lifetime' opportunity to yield valuable
information and unlock secrets from Hyperion, but will become a treasured accomplishment, commemorated for times to come.
Therefore, I know that everyone will agree with me when I say, "Hyperion is the target which will provide the greatest science."

At first glance, Hyperion looks as if it's plastered in an achromatic grey colour and simultaneously with dark depressions,
but in fact; Hyperion is tinted in red and when it is observed through a colour image, it happens to reveal hidden secrets,
additional details and variations of colours throughout its surface; however, these ‘secrets' are not so accurate and, therefore,
will require more insight. Furthermore, the feature which startles most spacecraft missions is Hyperion's asymmetrical shape and 'spongy'
surface which is rarely found on the other moons in Saturn's system. Hypothetically,
these irregularities were supposedly due to a shower of meteors which was deemed to have played a major part in
shaping and altering the surface of Hyperion, thus, the effect of this bombardment have theoretically caused Hyperion to appear
and become primarily known as the oldest surface in Saturn's system.

If we go back and recall the last Cassini spacecraft mission on September 26, 2005;
the Cassini spacecraft had taken sharp, crisp images and videos of Hyperion but were not accurate enough to allow scientists to
gather enough information for examining and answering questions, especially regarding the unusual congregations of craters which
spreads miscellaneously around the exterior of this moon. These curiosities then expose the question, 'What is the strange, dark substance
or material which fills some craters on this moon?' This query leads to whether or not landslides or other celestial activities occur on
Hyperion's surface to allow this substance or material to fill these depressions. But the foremost and initial mystery of this moon exposes
the question, 'Why does Hyperion differ from the other moons which belong in Saturn's system?'
With modern technology and the opportunity to glean from this celestial body, these questions may be answered.
If Cassini takes the opportunity to explore and observe the features of Hyperion, Cassini will not only answer these
brain-straining questions but discover, reveal and truly understand the mysteries of Hyperion.

Further study on this moon can result in amazing discoveries about the exterior and interior of Hyperion,
which is certainly deemed valuable in unravelling mind-boggling questions which still, puzzles the intellectual scientists of this era and will
absolutely be a worthwhile advancement in astrophysics. Thus, I believe that Target 1 is definitely the target which will provide the best science.

Year 9/10: Alicia Chen from Genazzano FCJ College Target Selected: Rhea and Titan

Rhea and Titan, Saturn's two largest moons, are the best choice for observations when the next flyby occurs.
They are both peculiar moons that are surrounded by infinite mysteries that should be further investigated and studied.
A few of the many reasons as to why we should focus on target 2 include the possibility of life on Titan, cause of "wispy"
formations on Rhea's surface and comparison of the two moons' atmosphere. By studying Rhea, we can also relate to Dione
and Tethys due to their similarity in size and structure.

Titan is the only moon in the solar system that possesses a dense atmosphere
(10 times denser than Earth's). This dense atmosphere is rich in organic compounds, which if were on Earth, would be signs of life. Organic compound
is the result of sunlight breaking down methane. If sunlight is continuously breaking down methane, how is methane getting into the atmosphere?
On Earth today, life is what rejuvenates methane supply. Methane is a by-product of the metabolism of many organisms. The wispy blue haze that
surrounds Titan is made up of broken-down methane. If methane is raining down on to the surface and is still being broken down by UV
light form the sun to cover the entire moon, then there must be a source of methane. According to titan's moment of inertia, there is no
way that this planet is uniformly solid. This brings about whether or not Titan has a subsurface ocean, perhaps consisting of methane.
Because of its temperature, Titan is too cold for liquid water to exist and all known forms of life require liquid water. It was to have
thought that long ago, the impact of a meteorite could've have provided enough heat to liquefy water, perhaps even to sustain life.
Could life have existed on Titan? By focusing on Titan, perhaps answers to these questions could be found.

Rhea is Saturn's second largest moon and is an intriguing target because of its light mass compared to its size.
Its density is slightly lower about 1.233 g/cm³., but still greater than that of most Saturnian moons, indicating that it is made mostly of ice,
but has a substantial minority of heavier materials; ¾ water and ¼ rock . Where did this large amount of water come from?

Rhea has two areas based on the crater density, they are known as the light area and the dark area.
The light area is covered by larger craters and is constantly facing Saturn like how our moon is always facing earth.
This suggests that a major resurfacing event occurred sometime during its formation. What was this supposed event that occurred?
Could Rhea have been tectonically active once upon a time?

The surface of Rhea is shrouded in wispy formations. This questions the cause of these formations,
which are also found on Dione. Where was the initial starting point of these formations? In which direction were these fissures headed?
Could this link back to the law of physics to find a connection with Saturn and its influence over this moon?

Another major question is whether or not Rhea has rings. Till now no one knows but many suspect it.
So does Rhea have the gravitational capacity to hold rocks around it to create rings? Does the core of Rhea hold enough gravity to attract
any geological formations? If Rhea does have rings, are these connected to those found orbiting Saturn? By investigating these strange
fixtures, we can also relate the same questions that arise on Dione.

All of these questions are wonderful reasons as to why Rhea and Titan should be
chosen as the next Cassini flyby target. By obtaining pictures and further investigations, these intriguing mysteries can hopefully be

Year 11/12: Jarrod Kimpton from Wallan Secondary College
Target Selected: Saturn

Saturn, the second largest planet,
the second fastest rotational period, yet has the lowest density of all the 'known' planets in the solar system.
Target 3, should primarily be the focus for the Cassini mission. My reasoning for this is backed up with the likelihood of
advancing our 'already established' knowledge of prominent features that Saturn has. Most importantly finding 'potential'
life on this planet. For the Cassini spacecraft to target Saturn in its 'fly-by' we could investigate Saturn in more "concentrated"
way. Which may result to the many phenomenal discoveries of this planet, discoveries that could give us the indication of foreign
life in our solar system.

The next reason that the Cassini spacecraft should target Saturn is because of its shear beauty is has to any
other planet. Fundamentally Saturn's intricate ring arrangement. The rings of Saturn contain mostly debris and water-ice all influenced by gravity,
giving the ring shape. If the Cassini space craft could investigate the rings of Saturn, it could further examine the affects the rings have on this
planet. In terms of forces, how it orbits the sun and even if the rings of Saturn contribute to the fastness of rotational period.

Additionally, the Cassini space craft should focus on Saturn because it could reveal "depths" of this planet.
In terms of the vigorousness that occurs when you travel further down this planet. According to Dr. Kevin Baines, there is an unusual feature that
occurs in the depths of Saturn. Known to be called the "String of pearls" which are described as "24 little Christmas lights", these 'lights' are
recognized as "holes in the clouds" that travel around Saturn to the opposite direction in which it rotates. I believe which further and extensive
research that the Cassini space craft can provide, could advance our knowledge about these strange 'lights' that travel around Saturn.
Questions such as why it travels in an opposite direction to its rotation, and also why there hasn't been any other feature like this on
any of the other planets in the solar system. Could be answered with the technology that the Cassini space craft has.

Following on, astronomers and other scientists in this field have known to observe Saturn's
"day side" where the sun reflects off this planet. The Cassini space craft allows for observers to see the "night side" of Saturn
or the darker section of this planet. This could potentially 'open many doors' in terms of discovering many other features that occur
within the darker sections of Saturn.

In conclusion, the Cassini space craft, if its targeted image is Saturn, could provide scientists
and astronomers with a much more detailed and comprehensive investigation, on the obscurities that remain to be solved about this planet.
Whilst doing so, could supply additional information about other planets with similar properties to Saturn. With the technology that the
Cassini space craft has, it can dive into the depths of Saturn allowing us to study unusual and abnormal features that Saturn is recognized for.

Cassini Scientist for a Day Essay Contest

Every year, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)'s Jet Propulsion Laboratory runs the Cassini Scientist for a Day Essay Contest for youths to learn more about the planet Saturn and the Cassini-Huygens mission.

The Cassini mission was launched in 1997 and entered into orbit around Saturn in 2004.  Cassini-Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft sent to Saturn to study the planet and its many natural satellites.  Once it completes its mission in 2017, the spacecraft will be sent to a fiery death in Saturn's atmosphere!

Contest participants play the role of mission scientists who capture images of various targets on and around Saturn and its fascinating rings and moons, in order to study them and understand more about their formation and processes.

In the Singapore edition of the contest, secondary school, polytechnic and junior college students write an essay choosing one of three possible scientific targets at Saturn.  At the conclusion of the essay contest, local organisers Astronomy.SG and Galaxy Astronomy Club, with sponsorship from NUS’ Special Programme in Science (SPS),hold a video conference for student participants with Cassini scientists and engineers, to excite and inspire the students.

This year, close to 70 participants and SPS students had the opportunity to meet two NASA scientists through the video conference on 5 March. Dr Morgan L. CABLE, a Project Science Systems Engineer for the Cassini Mission and Dr Earl MAIZE, Manager of the Cassini Programme, gave an introduction on “Exploring with Cassini”. They spoke passionately about their work and shared information on the contest’s three targets - Saturn’s Rings and Moons; Jupiter; and Rhea and Tethys. 

The video conference ended with a Q & A session, where the contestants were able to interact with Dr Cable and Dr Maize.

Students had the opportunity to meet Dr Cable (left) and Dr Maize

A student eagerly posing a question to Dr Cable and Dr Maize

Planet Saturn (image from Google)

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