The John J. McCarthy Observatory in New Milford will hold its next “Second Saturday Stars” program Feb. 13 from 7 to 9 p.m.

The topic will be “Robotic Exploration of the Solar System.”

Kyle Cloutier, a mission operations engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the world’s leader in robotic space exploration, will be the guest speaker.

Cloutier, a graduate of New Milford High School and a longtime volunteer at the observatory, is involved in the science planning for two long duration missions, the Mars Exploration Rover “Opportunity” and the Saturn orbiter “Cassini.”

Both missions are celebrating 12 years on station in 2016.

Speaking from Pasadena, Calif., Cloutier will provide an overview of the missions, including the challenges of operating a robot on a cold, dusty planet and a spacecraft billions of miles away in deep space.

The Opportunity rover was launched in 2003, landing six months later on a cratered Martian plain known as Meridiani Planum.

In the past 12 years, the 400-pound robotic geologist has driven over 26 miles exploring multiple impact craters and uncovering conclusive evidence of ancient water flowing across the surface and ponding in shallow lakes.

It took the Cassini spacecraft seven years to reach its destination, using multiple flybys of Venus, Earth and Jupiter to boost its velocity.

Since 2004, Cassini has been exploring the Saturnian system comprised of the ringed gas giant and its 62 moons.

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