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2013 Edition -- Target 3: Saturn, Grade 9 to 12 Winner

2013 Edition -- Target 3, Grade 9 to 12 Winner

Robert Olsen
Target 3, Saturn
Robert Olsen

Powell County High School
12 Grade
Deer Lodge, Montana

Teacher: Frank Spring

"Where should we point the Cassini space probe? Pointing the Cassini space probe towards Saturn would be the most prudent course of action because it could help us understand and replicate a powerful fuel source, better understand hurricanes on Earth, and learn more about Saturn’s ring system.

Saturn is believed to contain something called Metallic hydrogen. Metallic hydrogen is formed under immense amounts of pressure and is believed to be an excellent conductor. In fact, it is theorized to be a superconductor at temperatures as high as room temperature, higher than any other superconductor. Metallic hydrogen may also prove to be a powerful fuel. If it is proven to be metastable, or capable of staying in an unstable state that requires additional energy in order to change to a more stable form, then it could be used as a propellant with five times the thrust of the rocket fuel that is currently used by the space shuttle. Pointing the Cassini probe towards Saturn may allow us to glean valuable knowledge about this extremely interesting state of hydrogen.

Saturn also has a very unique feature at its north pole, a giant hexagonal shaped storm. This hexagon has been photographed by both of the Voyager space crafts, as well as the Cassini probe and has been shown to rotate with the planet. Exploring this odd shaped storm may provide us with insight into hurricanes on Earth, as well as discover the rate of rotation of Saturn’s inner and outer layers. Last year, the Cassini probe was able to capture infrared images of this storm and discovered that it was extremely similar to hurricanes that we experience here on Earth. Considering just how long lasting this storm is, studying it may very well be equivalent to studying a hurricane here on Earth in slow motion.

Another reason Saturn should be Cassini’s target is because of its ring system. Even though it is not the only planet in our solar system with rings, its system is the largest. We do not currently know how Saturn’s rings formed; as such further observation of Saturn’s ring system by the Cassini probe may provide invaluable insight into its formation. Saturn’s rings also contain their own oxygen atmosphere similar in composition to that of Earth’s own atmosphere. Since Saturn’s rings are not very dense and have a very small gravitational effect of their own, it would be very interesting to find out exactly how they manage to maintain their own atmosphere.

All in all Saturn may prove to yield a large variety of scientific discoveries, several of which could very well affect us directly. As if the possibility of a new and more efficient source of fuel were not enough to justify further study of Saturn, there are also a variety of other scientifically significant things that we could learn from Saturn. When all of these possibilities are taken into account as a whole, Saturn is clearly the best target for the Cassini probe."