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Cassini Scientist for a Day -- 2010 Edition, U.S. Winners
Target 3: Saturn, Grade 9 to 12

Cassini Scientist for a Day -- 2010 Edition, U.S. Winners
Target 3: Saturn, Grade 9 to 12

Benjamin Palmer
Titan and Tethys
Benjamin Palmer

10th Grade
Teacher: Nancy Palmer
Queensbury, N.Y.

"From a scientific viewpoint, Target 3, a day on Saturn, suggests the most potential for research purposes. While notable strides have been made, there is more to be gleaned from this celestial marvel.

As a system, Saturn and its satellites are a spectacular example of modern observational astronomy. Though the intensive focus applied to these satellites has yielded invaluable data, it often obfuscates the fascinating anomalies on Saturn itself.

The characteristics of Saturn's rotational period are among the most unique in our Solar System. Saturn rotates in a series of specific zones, each in a slightly different pattern given its latitude on the planet. Three main regions have been identified. The
Equatorial Zone extends from the north quadrant of the South Equatorial belt to the south quadrant of the North Equatorial Belt. The remainder of the planet's latitudes splits into two additional rotational sections. The difference between these three distinct zones is roughly 25 minutes, 22 seconds in rotation time.

Despite an in-depth understanding of these outer rotation regions, the rotational period of Saturn's innermost sector remains evanescent. Have radio emissions really played a role in shaping the planet's rotation time? Or is the inner zone's rotation evidence of some other mechanism at work? Perhaps a chemical process in Saturn's core is the cause? Hypothetically, a physical interaction between Saturn and one or more of its moons could affect the inner rotation time as well. Photographic data from the Cassini orbiter could shed light on these scientific speculations.

Since Voyager's electrifying discovery of the white hexagon storm on Saturn's north polar vortex, the planet's weather patterns have garnered much attention. The observational process used in this mission provides an ideal platform to further document Saturn's unique meteorology. The 27-frame time-lapse color movie taken in the 12-hour period allotted would allow us to scrutinize multiple storm systems and aspects of their formation.

Although Saturn's atmosphere usually produces longer lived storm cells, an intricate, highly detailed photo set might show hitherto undiscovered short-term weather phenomena. In recent years, strong lightening storms have been observed by Cassini. If an active storm occurs during a fly-by, scientists could gather useful insights related to these systems. Data collected could theoretically produce information on wind sheer composition and radioactivity within the storm cell. Such knowledge could provide a more comprehensive understanding of processes at work in and around Saturn's cloud belts.

Saturn's northern hemisphere is especially intriguing. It has a rich blue hue, similar to that of Uranus. Although this occurrence is most likely caused by Rayliegh Scattering, another explanation is conceivable. The Cassini probe could conclusively determine the precise source.

Advancement of the truth forms the heart and soul of astrophysics. Analyzing Saturn is a critical step in unlocking the many paradoxes of the known universe. This aesthetically stunning planet inspires our senses while challenging our scientific baseline.

The Cassini mission could be the catalyst for another quantum leap in planetary exploration."