Cassini To Make Final Close Flyby Of Saturn’s Moon Enceladus

Posted: Dec 18 2015, 10:38pm CST | by , Updated: Dec 19 2015, 8:16pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

Cassini to Make Final Close Flyby of Saturn’s Moon Enceladus

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Cassini spacecraft will never get that close to Enceladus again during its mission at Saturn.

An exciting chapter in space exploration history is about to conclude as NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is heading to its final close flyby of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

The last flyby is scheduled on Saturday at 9:49 a.m. PST in which spacecraft will zoom past Enceladus at a distance of 3,106 miles (4,999 kilometers).

But this will not mean the end of Cassini’s probe into Saturn’s moon. The spacecraft will continue observing Enceladus through the remainder of the mission until September 2017, but from a much greater distance.

The upcoming final flyby will attempt to measure the amount of heat coming through the icy surface of Enceladus. It will able to determine whether this object can really support life. Cassini’s Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) will help measure the heat flow across Enceladus' south polar terrain.

“The distance of this flyby is in the sweet spot for us to map the heat coming from within Enceladus – not too close and not too far away. It allows us to map a good portion of the intriguing south polar region at good resolution.” Mike Flaser, CIRS team leader at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said.

Scientists believe that plume of gas found on Enceladus south polar region stem from liquid water trapped inside moon’s icy surface and it's an indication that environment of Saturn moon may be suitable for life.

"Understanding how much warmth Enceladus has in its heart provides insight into its remarkable geologic activity, and that makes this last close flyby a fantastic scientific opportunity.” Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California said.

Cassini is orbiting around Saturn system for more than 11 years and has made several close approaches to its icy moon since mid-2004, the time when it reached the planet. Spacecraft completed one of the closest ever flyby on October 28 when it dived at just 30 miles above the surface of Enceladus to get the closer at its plume and to better understand its nature and composition. The Monday’s trip will mark as the 22nd closest flyby of Cassini’s historic mission at Saturn.

"Cassini's legacy of discoveries in the Saturn system is profound," said Linda Spilker. "We won't get this close to Enceladus again with Cassini, but our travels have opened a path to the exploration of this and other ocean worlds.”

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