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The Penultimate: NASA Starts Cassini's Ring-Grazing Orbits Phase Before Mission Finale

Nov 25, 2016 04:40 AM EST
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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced the start of a new phase in their mission to explore the giant gas planet, Saturn. Dubbed as Cassini's Ring-Grazing Orbits, Cassini will dive through the outer edge of Saturn's rings 20 times, once every seven days, from November 30 to April 22 next year.

"We're calling this phase of the mission Cassini's Ring-Grazing Orbits, because we'll be skimming past the outer edge of the rings. In addition, we have two instruments that can sample particles and gases as we cross the ring plane, so in a sense, Cassini is also 'grazing' on the rings," Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, explains in an official statement by NASA.

A step before the mission's Grand Finale, NASA's Cassini spacecraft will venture into unchartered territory to get up and close with Saturn's outer rings and moons.

Having spent more than 12 years in Saturn, NASA, with the use of its Cassini spacecraft, has made a series of breakthrough discoveries about the planet and its moons: it has dropped a lander on the Saturn moon Titan, leading to the discovery of its methane seas; found an underground ocean on Enceladus; investigated the origins of Saturn's strange, giant hexagonal jet stream; and last but not the least, discovered multiple new moons around Saturn, Space.com writes.

The space agency's Saturn probe was launched back in 1997. Cassini took a rather complicated route past Venus twice, Earth, and then Jupiter to build up speed before arriving at the ringed planet's system in 2004.

Cassini is expected to investigate the outer reaches of Saturn's F ring, which marks the boundary of the main ring system. It will also explore the moons orbiting within and near Saturn's rings, such as Pandora, Atlas, Pan and Daphnis.

To get a visual perspective of Cassini's latest explorations around Saturn, watch this video from NASA:

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