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The Grand Finale: JPL's Cassini Spacecraft Begins Epic Final Year Exploring Saturn

The Grand Finale: JPL's Cassini Spacecraft Begins Epic Final Year Exploring Saturn

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First Posted: Sep 21, 2016 01:06 AM EDT
Cassini, Titan & Saturn
The Mission will come to an end on Sept 15th of next year when Cassini will dive inside Saturn’s atmosphere, returning data about its chemical composition until signal is lost. Kevin Gill (NASA/JPL/Caltech) / Flickr CC BY-SA 3.0

The Cassini spacecraft, launched in 2004 on a mission to explore Saturn and its many moons and managed by Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will bring its historic trip to a close next September just after approaching Saturn's outer rings.

Starting from November 30, a new orbit will send Cassini just alongside the outer edge of the Gas Giant's main rings. These orbits will be in a series of 20 and are also called the F-ring orbits. Throughout these weekly orbits, Cassini is to approach to about 7,800 kilometers from the center of the narrower F ring, known with its peculiar braided and kinked structure, states a report on NASA's official site.

Linda Spilker, Project scientist at Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory stated, "We expect to see the rings during the F-ring orbits, along with their small moons and the other structures that are embedded in them". The last time Cassini was this close to the rings was during its arrival at Saturn in 2004. At present, there are more opportunities to examine its structure at extremely high resolution.

The Final Act:

Cassini's final mission also called the Grand Finale will begin in April 2017. A close fly by Saturn's giant moon Titan is reported to modify the spacecraft's orbit to pass it through the gap between the Gas Giant and its rings. The spacecraft will make 22 plunges through this spacing, with its first dive beginning on April 27, states astrobio.net.

During this Final Act, Cassini will make some of the closest observations of Saturn. The Spacecraft will map the Giant's magnetic as well as gravity fields with delicate precision, returning the ultra-close views of its atmosphere. Scientists also hope that the new observations will help gain new insights about Saturn's interior structure. The spacecraft is to also analyze dust-sized particles present in the main rings and to sample the outer reaches of its atmosphere.

Since the very beginning of 2016, mission engineers have been modifying Cassini's orbit around Saturn so as to position it for the final phase of the mission. The Mission will come to an end on Sept 15, next year when Cassini will dive inside Saturn's atmosphere, returning data about its chemical composition until the signal is lost. According to Pasadenanow.com, due to friction with Saturn's atmosphere the spacecraft will quickly burn up like a meteor.

To celebrate the final mission and the adventures associated with it, the team is going to release a new movie of the planet taken from above Saturn's northern hemisphere. The movie will cover just about four Saturn rotations.

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