Sci-tech

NASA's Cassini spacecraft finishes last close orbit of Saturn's moon Titan

NASA's Cassini spacecraft finishes last close orbit of Saturn's moon Titan

NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured this view of planet Earth as a point of light between the icy rings of Saturn on April 12, 2017.

The spacecraft is expected to make the first of 22 dives between the planet and its rings on Wednesday. That maneuver, NASA told USA Today will be the probe's "final opportunity for up-close observations of the lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons that spread across the moon's northern polar region, and the last chance to use its powerful radar to pierce the haze and make detailed images of the surface".

Technically, Cassini began its Grand Finale orbits at this time, but since the excitement of the finale begins in earnest on April 26th with the first ultra-close dive past Saturn, the mission is celebrating the latter milestone as the formal beginning of the finale. The so-called "Grand Finale" will begin on April 26 and end on Sep. 15.

The mission will conclude with a science-rich plunge into Saturn's atmosphere on September 15th. The European Geosciences Union will hold a press conference at 1:30 p.m. GMT (9:30 a.m. EDT) Tuesday to preview the Grand Finale and to talk about some of Cassini's many achievements over the past 13 years.

"The spacecraft is now on a ballistic path, so that even if we were to forgo future small course adjustments using thrusters, we would still enter Saturn's atmosphere on September". 15, no matter what.

The close encounter with Titan increased Cassini's velocity to about 1,925 miles per hour. It also came across Saturn's other moon Tethys, which showed its giant canyon snaking into darkness.

The canyon, known as Ithaca Chasma, is visible at the image's lower right, near the terminator - the line between a celestial object's dayside and nightside. The Ithaca Chasm is up to 60 miles wide and about 660 miles long, which is nearly three-fourths of the icy moon's surface. NASA officials also noted in a statement that the canyon had a maximum depth of almost 2.4 miles.


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