Cassini flying between Saturn and its rings

27 April, 2017, 01:44 | Author: Lorena Waters
  • Cassini heading towards final close encounter with Titan

A nail-biting wait has now begun as Cassini's communications to Earth go dark for about a day while it makes observations about the planet.

The first pass threading this needle close to Saturn began at 5 a.m. today, and although Cassini is not now in contact with the Earth - 870 million miles distant - it will continue collecting data on its way toward its ultimate destruction in the atmosphere of the gas giant's planet.

In honor of that maneuver, Google has released an adorable doodle paying tribute to Cassini and Saturn's special relationship.

'Images and other data are expected to begin flowing in shortly after communication is established, ' NASA said.

Launched in 1997, Cassini has captured thousands of incredible images of Saturn's atmosphere and nearby moons.

This is the end of a 13-year mission for the small probe, who has spent the past decade and three years gathering data about Saturn and its moons.

To avoid that possibility, the spacecraft will be deliberately steered into Saturn (which is not considered habitable), where it will be destroyed by the planet's atmosphere.

But it is a tricky mission - the mass of debris moves at about 67,800mph. The gap between Saturn's atmosphere and its rings is relatively narrow: 1,200 miles, or 1,900 kilometers. The spacecraft will then dive into Saturn on September 15, transmitting for as long as possible to provide information about the gas giant's atmosphere.

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"If the mass is small, then the rings are young and they have been formed by a different process".

"Ultra-close" images of Saturn's rings and clouds will be available Thursday morning, according to NASA.

Saturn has more than 60 moons, and Cassini has made new discoveries on some of them, which may have conditions suitable for a form of life.

Cassini has been revolving around Saturn's hazy moon Titan and recently, it had its close brush with Titan.

It discovered that the icy moon Enceladus conceals a subsurface, salty ocean beneath its crust, and may be able to support living microbes. The last images will make their way back to Earth a few hours before plunging down, but the team is also hopeful that Cassini will relay atmospheric data on its way down.

This way, Cassini should not contaminate future scientific work.

"We will have to rewrite many textbooks on planetary science".

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