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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 22nd September 2017 > SPACE-GEEK SATURNALIA


As the Cassini mission to Saturn ends, its lead imaging scientist recalls her favorite photographs and moments


Artist’s rendering of Cassini as it observes a sunset through the hazy atmosphere of Titan, a moon of Saturn.

A SPECTACULAR SPACE exploration mission will conclude with a dramatic death. The Cassini spacecraft will self-destruct by plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere, ultimately burning up and disintegrating. The planned mid-September dive will be the final farewell for a nearly threedecade- long collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. It’s been good while it lasted, Saturn.

The Cassini spacecraft launched aboard a Titan IVB/Centaur rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida on October 15, 1997, and spent seven years en route to its target, Saturn. It entered orbit around the ringed planet in 2004 for what was intended as a four-year mission, but was twice extended for a total run of 13 years, or nearly 20 if you count the journey there.

Cassini completed the first in-depth reconnaissance of Saturn, its moons and its rings. When the mission dropped the Huygens probe on Titan, it was the first to land on the moon of a planet other than Earth. There it discovered rain, rivers, lakes and seas. Cassini also found the first evidence of extraterrestrial hydrothermal activity on the moon Enceladus, where it also observed erupting geysers. Its detailed observations of Saturn’s rings could help scientists understand how the planets in our solar system formed.

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WHO'S KILLING AMERICA'S SPERM? Hagai Levine doesn't scare easily. The Hebrew University Public Health researcher is the former chief epidemiologist for the Israel Defense Forces, which means he’s acquainted with danger and risk in a way most of his academic counter-parts aren’t. So when he raises doubts about the future of the human race, it’s worth listening. Together with Shanna Swan, a professor of environmental medicine and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Levine authored a major new analysis that tracked male sperm levels over the past few decades, and what he found frightened him. “Reproduction may be the most important function of any species,” says Levine. “Something is very wrong with men.”