Last adventure ahead for NASA's Cassini spacecraft at Saturn

23 April, 2017, 03:20 | Author: Sam Montgomery
  • This image of Atlas was taken by Cassini’s narrow-angle camera during a close flyby

Cassini spacecraft will make its final close flyby of Saturn's largest moon Titan on April 21, NASA has said.

Cassini-Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft sent to Saturn which includes a Saturn Orbiter (Cassini) and a lander (Huygens) for the moon Titan.

"That last kiss goodbye", says project manager Earl Maize about Cassini's last meeting with Titan.

Twenty years after it was launched, the Cassini mission to Saturn will come to a spectacular end this September in what is being dubbed the "Cassini Grand Finale".

Cassini will make its final close flyby of Saturn's moon Titan on April 22, 2017. In September, after 22 of these orbits, the spacecraft will dive into Saturn's upper atmosphere where it will burn up in the "Grand Finale," ending its mission to the ringed planet.

"In the future, perhaps we will discover some "exo-Titan" among exoplanets, making our Titan the prototype of a new class of celestial objects", Daniel Cordier of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris said. Since then, the spacecraft - a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency - has been studying Saturn and its moons. For the next five months, Cassini will explore the region between Saturn and its rings, where no man-made artefact has ever previously been. It won't be easy to say goodbye, but thanks to the probe, Saturn's family album is bursting with remarkable images that will forever remind us the tenacity of this fantastic machine and the vision and work of those who kept it operating for so many years.

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By allowing the $3.26 billion spacecraft to burn and crash onto Saturn's surface, they ensure that the craft will harbor no alien life.

This extraordinary world is dominated at northern latitudes by great lakes of liquid methane. It doesn't want to shower contaminating wreckage onto these worlds that might harbor life.

"This is truly an exciting time for us to probe those [ocean worlds]", Green said.

The mission's scientists aim to know and examine Saturn's internal structure and the origins of the rings. A cosmic dust analyzer on Cassini will scoop up ring particles and analyze them.

During the dives, Cassini will measure how much ice and other materials are in the rings and determine their chemical composition.

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