UI researchers 'listen' to planet Saturn with instrument on spacecraft

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- A spacecraft carrying instruments from the university took off 20 years ago, and it's now orbiting the planet Saturn to learn more about its captivating rings.

The University of Iowa has research instruments aboard the spacecraft Cassini, orbiting Saturn between the planet and its rings on Thursday, May 11, 2017. (Ethan Fickau/KCRG-TV9)

"You see waves and shadows even and all kinds of structure. It's just different and so beautiful when you look at them," said UI scientist George Hospodarsky.

He and other researchers at the University of Iowa are excited to see their instruments being put to use on the spacecraft Cassini, which is orbiting Saturn between its atmosphere and rings.

One instrument allows the scientists to listen to the planet.

"If we run into dust it's like sitting in your car in Iowa during a hail storm or maybe a sleet storm and you can hear all these things hitting the car or in this case Cassini," said William Kurth, another researcher.

So why does this matter? Discovery.

"I think it's part of human nature to learn about who we are and where we came from and it's hard to really know that without studying the rest of the solar system and the universe for that matter," Kurth said.

Cassini's research team includes scientists from countries across the globe. One scientist says they're constantly rewriting textbooks about the planets as they make new discoveries.

"Of course, we gather detailed knowledge that is popularized and then simplified and then there are small bits that remain that just open our perspective," said Philippe Zarka.

The final part of this mission involves Cassini intentionally crashing through Saturn's atmosphere in September to take measurements of the planet.