Astrophysicist brings findings from far-away planets to Lincoln

 posted by | 01/09/2017

As one of the most scientifically rich voyages ever undertaken in our solar system reaches its dramatic conclusion, an astrophysicist who examines data from NASA’s pioneering Cassini mission joins the University of Lincoln to establish an exciting new specialism in space, planets and moon formation.

(PIA21438) Cassini above Saturn's northern hemisphere prior to making one of its Grand Finale dives (CREDIT NASA JPL-Caltech)

Dr Phil Sutton’s work focusses on the scientific study of the rings around Saturn – the second largest planet in our solar system.

His research uses optical images sent back to Earth from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which is currently orbiting Saturn after almost 20 years in space. Cassini is now embarking on the final chapter of its remarkable exploration – labelled its ‘Grand Finale’.

(PIA21438) Cassini above Saturn’s northern hemisphere prior to making one of its Grand Finale dives (CREDIT NASA JPL-Caltech)Cassini was launched in 1997, took seven years to travel to Saturn, and has spent the last 13 years orbiting the planet. Throughout its journey, Cassini has sent an extensive catalogue of invaluable data back to Earth to help scientists like Dr Sutton build a clearer picture of our solar system.

The spacecraft’s final mission sees it undertake a daring set of orbits. Following a close flyby of Saturn’s moon Titan, Cassini is leaping over the planet’s icy rings and carrying out a series of dives between the planet and its rings. No other mission has ever explored this new region and what we learn from Cassini’s final orbits will help inform our understanding of how giant planets – and planetary systems everywhere – form and evolve.

Dr Sutton, who joins the University of Lincoln’s School of Mathematics and Physics on 1st September 2017, will explore these fascinating findings in a public lecture which is free to attend and open to all.

Dr Phil Sutton

Taking place on Wednesday 11th October 2017, Dr Sutton’s public talk is titled Cassini: Over a decade of discoveries. It will be the School of Mathematics and Physics’ first Edmund Weaver Lecture in Astronomy and will take place at 6pm in the University’s new Isaac Newton Lecture Theatre on the Brayford Pool Campus. Attendance is free but places should be booked online in advance.

Dr Sutton said: “The Cassini spacecraft has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004. The unprecedented detail of more than a decade’s worth of observations of Saturn, its rings and many moons has helped further our understanding of our solar system.

“With Cassini now being placed onto a direct collision with Saturn we are expecting the most exciting science yet to come from these more risky manoeuvres. In my talk, I will recap some of the most significant discoveries that Cassini has made and explore the findings of its Grand Finale – its very last contributions to science.”

The full story is available to read on the University of Lincoln website.

Top picture caption: Cassini above Saturn prior to making one of its Grand Finale dives (CREDIT – NASA/JPL-Caltech)