United States (US) space agency NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is beginning its final moves around the planet Saturn which it has been studying since 2004. The final movements include some dazzling dives that will take us closer than ever before to the planet of the rings.
The first of these moves took place last weekend, when Cassini flew past Saturn’s moon, Titan. The craft got to within 1000 kilometres of Titan and we were able to see, in close-up, Titan’s methane-rich lakes and seas. Methane is a gas which is found in liquid form on Titan.
Getting close to Saturn
Titan’s gravity (pull exerted by the moon) is also changing Cassini’s orbit (the path it takes around the planet) ever so slightly so that instead of passing outside Saturn’s rings, Cassini will now fly in the narrow space between the planet and its rings. This will enable us to study what it is that the rings are made of as well as get a close look at Saturn’s atmosphere.
Over the next six months, Cassini’s orbit will take it into the narrow flyway between Saturn and its rings once a week. On September 15th, it will make its final descent into Saturn’s atmosphere and end its mission. The craft is not geared for landing on Saturn and will therefore break-apart as it dives towards the planet, but not before sending back some very important information to Earth. Bravo Cassini!