US spacecraft to take slingshot dive inside Saturn's rings

Phillip Butler
April 28, 2017

The Cassini spacecraft spotted Earth as a bright speck (and the moon as a smaller speck) between Saturn's broad rings as the craft prepares for its final dive into the ringed planet's atmosphere.

Cassini, launched in 1997, has begun its slingshot manoeuvre which see it orbit into Saturn's atmosphere that will cause the ship to break up upon entering. It will also look for Titan's "magic island" that is described as a mysterious feature in one of the moon's seas.

Early Saturday, Cassini will swing past Saturn's mega moon Titan.

This is not the first time Cassini is providing such rare images.

As it continues to make some of its final flybys of the Saturn system, the Cassini spacecraft hasn't entirely forgone looking back toward its home planet, Earth.

(AP Photo/NASA). This image made by the Cassini spacecraft and provided by NASA on March 12, 2006, shows two of Saturn's moons, the small Epimetheus and smog-enshrouded Titan, with Saturn's A and F rings stretching across the frame. There will be no turning back once it flies past Titan, and embark on a new path around Saturn. Once about every seven days.

According to the Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California - Linda Spilker - the Grand Finale for Cassini's journey was far and away the desired choice for the mission's scientists. "But we are certainly going to provide more excitement".

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This spacecraft is searching the hidden facts of Saturn since 13 years.

"This is the closest we've come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment". Nasa scientists used the instruments on the spacecraft to study the geysers of water erupting from Enceladus, a moon of Saturn.

Using Titan's gravity to give it an extra push, Cassini will end its nearly twenty-year mission with a series of dips.

Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She is an active blogger and erstwhile facilitator of science and engineering programs for children.

Titan is the only moon in the solar system to sport clouds and a dense atmosphere.

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