Cassini spacecraft will make its final close flyby of Saturn’s largest moon Titan on April 21, Nasa has said. During the encounter, Cassini will pass as close as 979 kilometres above Titan’s surface at a speed of about 21,000 kms per hour, the US space agency said. The flyby marks the mission’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.

Titan seen against Saturn. Image Credits: Reuters
Titan seen against Saturn. Image Credits: Reuters

The flyby is also the gateway to Cassini’s “Grand Finale” — a final set of 22 orbits that pass between the planet and its rings, ending with a plunge into Saturn on September 15 that will end the mission. During the close pass on April 21, Titan’s gravity will bend Cassini’s orbit around Saturn, shrinking it slightly, so that instead of passing just outside the rings, the spacecraft will begin its finale dives which pass just inside the rings.

Cassini observing the plumes of water erupting from Enceladus. Image: Nasa.
Cassini observing the plumes of water erupting from Enceladus. Image: Nasa.

Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft is in orbit around Saturn for nearly 13 years. The penultimate set of orbits are known as the ring grazing orbits, and Cassini has been busy beaming back breathtaking images of the rings of Saturn and the Moons in orbit near the rings. Nasa scientists used the instruments on the spacecraft to study the geysers of water erupting from Enceladus, a moon of Saturn. When Cassini was launched, the scientists had no idea that Enceladus had water geysers, and Cassini was able to make some observations despite not being designed for that purpose.

Tech2 News Staff, with inputs from IANS

Publish date: April 20, 2017 2:39 pm| Modified date: April 20, 2017 2:54 pm

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