Tags: cassini | grand finale

Cassini Grand Finale Features Fantastic Pic-Taking Flybys

Cassini Grand Finale Features Fantastic Pic-Taking Flybys

View from Cassini spacecraft as it ventureed between Saturn and its rings. (JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/NASA via AP)

By    |   Wednesday, 16 August 2017 07:02 AM

Cassini's "grand finale" over Saturn began with the NASA spacecraft entering its final orbit before plunging into the gassy planet's upper atmosphere where it should burn up like an artificial meteor.

The spaceship came as near as 1,000 miles to Saturn in a flyby on Monday, its closest pass yet. That allowed scientists to see the planet's atmospheric features at 16 miles across, Space.com reported.

Cassini will fly over Saturn's north and south poles and through the gap between the planet's innermost ring.

"It's very bittersweet," said Jo Pitesky, Cassini project science system engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, per Space.com. "But (Cassini's) doing what she was built for. She's going on to explore and to see the mission acquire great science and not go out with a whimper. … It's tremendously fulfilling."

New Scientist magazine called pictures of Saturday's North Pole pass released in April from the spacecraft "astonishing images." Those pictures gave a view of the planet's ring while looking down onto the huge gas planet.

The magazine said the spacecraft also took fascinating pictures of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus spewing jets of liquid water from its internal ocean out into space. Researchers called the moon one of the most promising spots to find life in our solar system outside of Earth.

In its newest maneuvers, Cassini will pass close enough to Saturn where it will need its rocket thrusters to maintain stability, similar to what it had to do during flybys around the Saturn moon of Titan and its dense atmosphere, according to a NASA statement.

"Cassini's Titan flybys prepared us for these rapid passes through Saturn's upper atmosphere," said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager. "Thanks to our past experience, the team is confident that we understand how the spacecraft will behave at the atmospheric densities our models predict."

Cassini will use Titan's gravity to help slow down its orbit around Saturn and bend its path slightly to send the spacecraft toward its Sept. 15 final dive into the planet.

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Cassini's "grand finale" over Saturn began with the NASA spacecraft entering its final orbit before plunging into the gassy planet's upper atmosphere where it should burn up like an artificial meteor.
cassini, grand finale
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2017-02-16
Wednesday, 16 August 2017 07:02 AM
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