NASA's Cassini spacecraft is gearing up to begin a series of daring dives through Saturn's rings. On November 30, the first step in the probe's investigation of the giant gas planet. From Nov. 30 to April 22, Cassini spacecraft will dive through the outer edge of Saturn's rings 20 times. This will occur once every seven days. The spacecraft will be entering territory that has never been explored before. It will get the closest look ever at Saturn's outer rings as well as its moons.
NASA described this phase of the mission in a new video. "We're calling this phase of the mission Cassini's Ring-Grazing Orbits, because we'll be skimming past the outer edge of the rings," Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, said in a statement. "In addition, we have two instruments that can sample particles and gases as we cross the ring plane, so in a sense, Cassini is also 'grazing' on the rings." This isn’t Cassini’s first major accomplishment in the space world. It has spent 12 years in Saturn's system and the probe has dropped a lander on Saturn's moon Titan, discovering the satellite's methane seas. It also discovered an underground ocean on the moon Enceladus; and discovered multiple new moons around Saturn. Cassini left for Saturn in 1997. It took a complicated path past Venus twice, Earth and then Jupiter to build up speed before being able to reach the ringed planet's system in 2004.
Cassini will pass through a faint outer ring for a few orbits, and then probe the outer reaches of Saturn's F ring, which marks the boundary of the main ring system. "Even though we're flying closer to the F ring than we ever have, we'll still be more than 4,850 miles (7,800 km) distant." Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL, said in the statement.
Cassini’s goal is to explore the several small moons orbiting within and close to the rings. These include Pandora, Atlas, Pan and Daphnis. Cassini will also scoop up ring particles and gas to analyze, and build an in-depth scan of the rings' structure. This is a very exciting time for NASA. After the mission phase ends in April, Cassini will begin the "Grand Finale" tour, traveling around the moon Titan to begin 22 dives between Saturn and its rings, and finally turning to dive into the planet's atmosphere on Sept. 15. Researchers will use observations of the planet during this ring-grazing phase of to calculate how close the spacecraft can safely go during its dives before the final plunge, the scientists said. That final dive will provide an unprecedented view of the planet's gravity, composition and atmosphere.
Writer and Coffee Addict