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NASA Plans to Send Cassini to Unexplored Space for its Final Year

Sep 20, 2016 04:00 AM EDT
Cassini to provide never-before-seen images and one-of-a-kind data on Saturn and its rings for its final mission.
(Photo : NASA)

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is planning on getting the most of Cassini spacecraft during its final year in orbit. For Cassini's last hoorah, the spacecraft will pass through an unexplored space between Saturn and its rings and will make the closest-ever observations of Saturn, providing new precise insights into the planet's inner structures.

"We may be counting down, but no one should count Cassini out yet," said Curt Niebur, Cassini program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in a press release. "The journey ahead is going to be a truly thrilling ride."

Cassini's final mission, dubbed as The Grand Finale, is going to be a two-phase operation that will begin on Nov. 30, 2016. During the initial phase of the mission, Cassini's orbit will send the spacecraft to pass outer edge of Saturn's main rings, where the spacecraft is expected to complete 20 orbits. In these weekly orbits, Cassini will approach within 4,850 miles of the center of the so-called F-ring, providing never-before-seen footage and images of the rings, small moons and other objects embedded in them.

By April 2017, Cassini will start the final phase of its mission and pass through the gap between Saturn and the rings with the help of Saturn's moon Titan. During the series of 22 dives through the unexplored region between Saturn and the rings, Cassini will provide the closest-ever observation of the ringed planet.

According to the report from Voice of America, NASA expects the spacecraft to take some ultra-close image of Saturn's atmosphere, directly analyzed dust-sized particles in the main rings and sample the outer limits of the planet's atmosphere.

Additionally, scientists hope to get new information and insights about the interior structure of Saturn. They also hope to have additional insights on the precise length of a Saturn day and the total mass of the rings, which could finally determine the age of Saturn and its rings.

Since Cassini's arrival in Saturn's system in 2004, the spacecraft have been providing helpful insights about the planet, along with its moons and rings, for 12 years. Cassini is expected to plunge to Saturn's surface on September 15, 2017. During its final moments, Cassini will provide one-of-a-kind data about the gas chemistry of the planet before burning out and finally put out of commission.

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