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FEATURE
Cassini's Superhuman Senses

05.26.04

Cassini spacecraft The Cassini spacecraft is loaded with an array of sophisticated instruments and cameras, to deliver valuable data from the mission to scientists around the world.

Image right: An animation showing the Cassini spacecraft various instruments. + View QuickTime (.8 Mb)
Image credit: NASA/JPL


In many ways, the spacecraft's instruments can be classified to the way human senses operate. Your eyes and ears are "remote sensing" devices because you can receive information from remote objects without being in direct contact with them. Your senses of touch and taste are "direct sensing" devices. Your nose can be construed as either a remote or direct sensing device. You can certainly smell the apple pie across the room without having your nose in direct contact with it, but the molecules carrying the scent do have to make direct contact with your sinuses. Cassini's instruments can be classified as remote and microwave remote sensing instruments, and fields and particles instruments. These are all designed to record significant data and take a variety of close-up measurements.

However, the instruments on the Cassini spacecraft are much more advanced than our own. Cassini can "see" in wavelengths of light and energy that the human eye cannot. The instruments on the spacecraft can "feel" things about magnetic fields and tiny dust particles that no human hand could detect.

The remote sensing instruments can calculate measurements from a great distance. This set includes both optical and microwave sensing instruments including cameras, spectrometers, radar and radio.

The fields and particles instruments take direct sensing measurements of the environment around the spacecraft. These instruments measure magnetic fields, mass, electrical charges and densities of atomic particles. They also measure the quantity and composition of dust particles, the strengths of plasma (electrically charged gas), and radio waves.

Cassini Mission
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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