NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Completes Final Flyby Of Titan

Posted: Apr 25 2017, 12:56pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Completes Final Flyby of Titan
This unprocessed image of Saturn's moon Titan was captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini flies through Saturn's moon Titan for the last time and transmits images of hydrocorbon seas and lakes

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft successfully completes its final flyby of Saturn’s hazy moon Titan and transmits detailed images of the surface. The images show scenes from high above the moon’s northern polar region, including the hydrocarbon seas and lakes.

The flyby was the Cassini’s 127th targeted encounter with Titan in which the spacecraft dived into the moon’s atmosphere at an altitude of about 608 miles, traveling in excess of 13,000 miles per hour.

The flyby is also the gateway to Cassini's final act. During this phase, spacecraft will repeatedly fly in and around the narrow gaps between Saturn and its rings before crashing itself into the Saturn’s atmosphere later this year.

“With this flyby we're committed to the Grand Finale," said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL. "The spacecraft is now on a ballistic path, so that even if we were to forgo future small course adjustments using thrusters, we would still enter Saturn's atmosphere on Sept. 15 no matter what.”

After 13 years orbiting the ringed planet, Cassini is running low on fuel and is heading towards its final days in orbit around Saturn. So, NASA has decided to end the mission on a purposeful note. Cassini will reach those regions where no spacecraft has gone before. As Cassini has made final close encounter with Titan, the moon’s gravity bends its orbit around Saturn and shrinks it slightly. So that instead of passing just outside the rings, the spacecraft will make dives inside the rings.

Assuming all goes to plan, the observations of unexplored regions will offer researchers an opportunity to better understand the planet’s interior and the origin of its rings.

“Cassini's up-close exploration of Titan is now behind us, but the rich volume of data the spacecraft has collected will fuel scientific study for decades to come.” Linda Spilker, the mission's project scientist at NASA JPL said.

Meantime, researchers will have a closer look at images sent by Cassini during its final encounter with Titan. For the first and last time, Cassini’s radar instrument was also used to study the depth and composition of Titan's seas and lakes. These measurements will help understand more about msyterious "magic island" and what caused it to appear and disappear.

Cassini has reached the farthest point in its orbital path around Saturn after buzzing Titan. The spacecraft's first finale dive will take place on April 26.

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