APR 22, 2017 8:01 AM PDT

Cassini Mission Prepares for Grand Finale, Takes First Baby Steps

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

The Cassini mission involves the probe that’s currently circling Saturn and taking vivid pictures of the gas giant planet itself, as well as its fascinating robust rings, and the tens of moons that orbit the planet.

Cassini has been there for approximately 13 years, collecting information for scientists and helping us map out the Saturnine system. While there, it has helped uncover the mysteries of some of the planet’s misunderstood moons, such as Enceladus and Titan, which are each important for their own reasons.

Cassini is preparing for its grand finale, and the first baby steps have been taken.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Saturn has many moons – 62 is the current count – but only some of them have everyone’s attention. Enceladus, for example, is believed to have a subsurface ocean, which might have the means of supporting alien life. Titan has interesting liquid methane lakes all over its surface, which are another point of interest for scientists.

As Cassini runs out of fuel, engineers are preparing the spacecraft for a grand finale suicide mission in which it will plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere to avoid colliding with any of Saturn’s moons. It’s an attempt to prevent contamination of any of the moons and keep them as pure as possible for future observations.

The first baby steps into the grand finale have already been taken, as Cassini recently used a gravitational slingshot provided by Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons, to get into a much closer orbit in between Saturn’s atmosphere and its rings.

Related: Check out the waves in Saturn's rings, photographed by Cassini

At this altitude, estimated to be around 3,000km above Saturn’s atmosphere, Cassini can study Saturn in even more detail, keeping track of additional tidbits of information for scientists right before the crash course that’s scheduled for September of this year.

One of the questions that will reportedly be answered during this finale is exactly how long a day lasts on the planet Saturn, a question whose answer has eluded scientists for a long time.

According to scientists, we only have estimates and it varies depending on how you look at the planet, so being this close finally gives us an opportunity to get an accurate reading. Because Saturn is a gassy planet, the poles can rotate faster than the equator, which means there is some inconsistency in how it spins, unlike on a terrestrial planet such as Earth.

Additionally, now that we’re closer than ever to the rings of Saturn, we can finally probe deeper into what makes up the rings to better understand their age and composition. While we know they’re icy, we still don’t know how large the ice clumps are, a question we hope to finally answer.

It should be interesting to see how much information we can get out of Cassini before the spacecraft finally does go into nose-dive mode. On the other hand, saying goodbye to the only information-gathering spacecraft we have in the region isn’t easy and scientists are already scheming to send more probes towards Saturn to study Enceladus up close.

Source: BBC

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
DEC 09, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 09, 2019
How Close is SpaceX to Sending Humans to Space?
NASA is one of the world’s most capable space agencies, but a crippling budget prevents it from developing a new space vehicle of its own. Instead, N...
DEC 10, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 10, 2019
Do Nebulae Actually Look This Impressive?
Astronomers often turn to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope when they fancy observing any of the plethora of distant nebulae in outer space. Nebulae are...
DEC 22, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 22, 2019
Boeing Launches Botched Starliner Demo Mission for NASA
Boeing finally moved forward with the initial un-crewed test launch of its Starliner Commercial Crew spacecraft for NASA at the end of this past week follo...
JAN 05, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 05, 2020
It's Finally the Year of the Mars 2020 Mission
It’s officially 2020, and with that in mind, anyone paying attention to NASA’s launch schedule should know already that the Mars 2020 rover is...
FEB 17, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 17, 2020
SpaceX Launches More Starlink Satellites, But Fails First Stage Landing
SpaceX launched yet another one of its renowned Falcon 9 rockets on Monday, this time carrying a plethora of its Starlink satellites that will fortify the...
MAR 15, 2020
Space & Astronomy
MAR 15, 2020
This Exoplanet Rains... Iron!?
Many of us take the Earth and its many ‘normal’ characteristics for granted, but there are so many exoplanets in the universe around us with th...
Loading Comments...