NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is all set for its final close encounter with Saturn’s largest moon Titan, the US space agency has said. Cassini will perform the final close flyby on April 21 before crashing down in Saturn’s atmosphere.
NASA said during the final close flyby, Cassini probe will be at a speed of about 21,000 kms per hour 979 kilometres above Titan's surface.
This encounter will be NASA Cassini mission’s final attempt to make close observations of the seas and lakes of liquid hydrocarbons that are present across the moon’s northern polar region. It will also be the last chance of the mission to use its powerful radar to pierce the haze and obtain detailed images of the surface.
This flyby is also the gateway to NASA Cassini spacecraft’s "Grand Finale". The ‘Grand Finale’ includes a final set of 22 orbits by Cassini as it will pass between the rings of the gas giant. It will then make a plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere on September, marking an end of the mission.
Titan's gravity will bend Cassini's orbit around Saturn during the April 21 flyby and will shrink it slightly so that instead of passing through just outside the rings, the probe will also begin its finale dives which pass just inside the rings.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which is in orbit around Saturn for nearly 13 year, will be marking the end of the 20-year-long journey.
The closest approach of NASA Cassini spacecraft to Titan is planned for 11:08 pm PDT on April 21 (11:38 am IST April 22).
This flyby is Cassini’s 127th targeted encounter with Titan. For a targeted flyby, the spacecraft uses its rocket engine or thrusters to accurately aim toward the encounter.
The radar instrument will also search a final time for Titan’s “magic island,” a mysterious feature in one of the moon’s seas that changed in appearance over the course of several flybys.
Scientists hope to gain additional insights to help them determine whether the feature is waves, bubbles, floating debris, or something else entirely.
NASA will destroy its 20-year-old Cassini spacecraft. Here’s why:
The NASA Cassini spacecraft is running low on fuel as it has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004. NASA took this decision in order to protect and preserve Saturn’s moons, especially the potentially habitable Enceladus, for future exploration.
The thrilling finale will help NASA scientists to further understand how giant planets as well as planetary systems form and evolve.
What all will happen in the final journey of Cassini spacecraft?
On Saturday, April 22, NASA’s Cassini will make a transition to its grand finale orbit. It will perform a last close flyby of Saturn's giant moon Titan on the same day.
As part of the Saturn mission’s grand finale, the Cassini probe will make first of a series of dives through the 1,500-mile-wide (2,400-kilometer) space between Saturn and its rings on Wednesday, April 26.
"No spacecraft has ever gone through the unique region that we'll attempt to boldly cross 22 times," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
On September 15, the NASA Cassini spacecraft will head towards its fateful plunge into Saturn and will beam back data from several instruments until it loses contact with Earth.
"This planned conclusion for Cassini's journey was far and away the preferred choice for the mission's scientists," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
"Cassini will make some of its most extraordinary observations at the end of its long life."
The NASA team responsible for the mission hopes to seek strong insights into the internal structure of Saturn and the origin of the rings, get the first-ever sampling of atmosphere of Saturn and particles that come from the main ring and capture the closest-ever views of the clouds of the planet and its inner rings.