Prepare for lift off with planetary scientist and Saturn expert Carolyn Porco

Discover Science Lecture Series takes a spin through the solar system on March 16

The fifth planet from the sun, Saturn is the second biggest planet in the solar system. Here it is, seen in all its ringed majesty.

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3/14/2017 | By: Michael  Olinger |

The final frontier will meet the biggest little city when renowned planetary scientist Carolyn Porco orbits through the University of Nevada, Reno on Thursday, Mar. 16 and the College of Science's Discover Science Lecture Series casts its eyes skyward.

Porco's impressive accomplishments include work as an imaging scientist for the Voyager program, which sent two probes to the outer solar system in 1977. She also served as an associate member of the New Horizons mission to Pluto and leads the imaging science team for the Cassini mission currently in orbit around Saturn.

Her work in the Saturnian system is extensive. She is an expert on Saturn's rings, as well as its icy moon Enceladus, whose geysers supply much of the material for one of the planet's many rings. In 2013 a prediction made by Porco two decades earlier was confirmed when Cassini data showed that acoustic oscillations within the planet create features in its rings.

In an interview with Sen in 2012, Porco described the Cassini mission as "the most daring and elaborate orbital tour of a planetary system yet executed, with vastly more flybys of planetary bodies, and the closest ever conducted, than any other mission we've ever flown. It may very well be that Cassini has conducted more close flyby maneuvers - over 100 - than have ever been conducted in the entire planetary program."

Porco has worked hard to make the gravity of Cassini's achievements, and by extension her own, relatable to the public, describing the importance of the mission in poetic terms.

"[Cassini tells us] that it is possible to see each other, no matter what part of the Earth we call home. As fellow brethren, joined in a common place and time and capable of joining in a common cause like the exploration of a planetary system 10 times farther from the sun than the Earth," said Porco in her 2012 interview with Sen. "That's heady stuff, and we should all keep that front and center when we think about the messy, sometimes ugly, sometimes horrific circumstances we collectively have created on our planet. It can be different if we want it."

In 2010 Porco was awarded the Carl Sagan Medal for Excellence in the Communication of Science to the Public by the American Astronomical Society. In 2012 Porco was named one of the 25 most influential people in space by Time magazine. She was a consultant on the 1997 Robert Zemeckis movie Contact, based on a novel by Carl Sagan. Lead actress Jodie Foster was reportedly advised by Sagan to base her performance in the film on Porco.

Porco's orbit brings her to the University

The Discover Science Lecture Series, in its sixth year, was founded by the University's College of Science with the aim of bringing top scientists from around the United States to the University to share their knowledge with the community.

As a speaker in the series, Porco joins previous scientific luminaries like renowned astrophysicists Michio Kaku and Neil deGrasse Tyson; Robert Ballard, who discovered the wreck of the Titanic; and Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Porco's lecture, which is free to the public, will be held in the Redfield Auditorium in the Davidson Mathematics and Science Center on the University campus at 7 p.m. Free parking for the event can be found at the top level of the Brian J. Whalen Parking Complex on North Virginia Street, next to the E.L. Wiegand Fitness Center. For more information, call 775-784-4591 or visit the Discover Science Lecture Series website.

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