On 2 June 2021, BBC Earth’s Planet Explorers released an interview with Dr Leah-Nani Alconcel and her colleagues, discussing the different roles she and her teammates played in NASA-European Space Agency (ESA) Cassini mission to Saturn.
In the programme, titled ‘The women leading the exploration of Saturn - Planet Explorers’, Dr Alconcel explains how she worked on the spacecraft’ magnetometer sensors. These sensors, which detect magnetic fields, provided scientists with the first indication that there was liquid water in the south pole of Saturn’s Enceladus moon.
The discovery, made in 2008, marked the first-time liquid water had been discovered elsewhere in the solar system, other than the Earth.
Reflecting on the discovery, Dr Alconcel said: “It was fantastic, a real a wow moment. There was liquid elsewhere in the solar system, other than the Earth.”
Dr Alconcel is a spacecraft engineer and Aerospace Engineering course lecturer in the School of Metallurgy and Materials. She is Deputy Admissions Tutor for the School. She has research interests in payload instrument development and calibration, data management for space, and pedagogical methods for inclusive STEMM teaching
Cassini was one of the most ambitious efforts ever mounted in planetary exploration. A joint endeavour of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency), and the Italian space agency (ASI), Cassini was a sophisticated robotic spacecraft sent to study Saturn and its complex system of rings and moons in unprecedented detail. The mission lasted over a decade, from 2005 to 2017.
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