Cassini Spacecraft Gets A 'Goodbye Kiss' Before It Meets Its End

Gwen Vasquez
September 12, 2017

Cassini zoomed within 73,974 miles (119,049 kilometers) of Titan Monday (Sept. 11) in a flyby created to lower the probe's orbit enough to ensure that it will crash into Saturn's thick atmosphere as planned on Friday, NASA officials said.

On Friday, the 15 September, Cassini will send itself into Saturn, nearly 20 years since it left Earth. That "goodbye kiss", as NASA mission engineers call it, has altered Cassini's trajectory just enough to send it hurtling towards Saturn where it will meet its end on Friday.

Cassini project scientist Linda Spilker of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said that the hurricanes at the Saturn's poles are huge, covering about half the continental United States, 50 times larger than Earth's hurricane.

"This final encounter is something of a bittersweet goodbye, but as it has done throughout the mission, Titan's gravity is once again sending Cassini where we need it to go", Maize added.

In the 13 years that Cassini's been studying Saturn and its moons, it's flown by Titan pretty much every month for over a decade.

When the Cassini spacecraft arrived around Saturn on July 1st, 2004, it became the fourth space probe to visit the system.

In the course of making its many flybys, the Cassini spacecraft revealed a great deal about the composition of Titan's atmosphere, its methane cycle (similar to Earth's hydrological cycle) and the kinds of weather it experiences in its polar regions. The spacecraft is scheduled to make contact with Earth on September 12 at about 6:19 p.m. PDT (9:19 p.m. EDT).

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Artist depiction of Huygens lander touching down on the surface of Saturn's largest moon Titan.

The probe's composite infrared spectrometer revealed the small moon to have a porous surface.

The spacecraft's fateful dive is the final beat in the mission's Grand Finale, 22 weekly dives (begun in late April) through the gap between Saturn and its rings.

As the mission approaches its final days in 2017, it attempts one last set of daring maneuvers-diving between the innermost ring and the top of Saturn's atmosphere.

Radio contact with Earth will be lost within approximately two minutes of the probe's entrance into Saturn's atmosphere.

Cassini will collect vital data that was too risky to obtain earlier in the mission including detailed maps of Saturn's gravity and magnetic fields and extreme close-ups of Saturn's rings and clouds.

So long and best wishes, Cassini!

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