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NASA Cassini 'Ring-Grazing' Has Begun on Saturn, Grand Finale in Sight [VIDEO]

Dec 02, 2016 08:06 AM EST
Cassini Enters Orbit Around Saturn
Cassini started its high-flying ring-grazing orbits to Saturn's ring last Nov. 30.
(Photo : NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute via Getty Images)

NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn is almost over as the spacecraft is running out of fuel, but Cassini will end the mission with a big finish. Before its Grand Finale death dive plunge in 2017, the spacecraft will perform a series of ring-grazing as it orbits near Saturn's ring to gather scientific data.

Since 2004, Cassini has been sending images of Saturn, its rings and its moons back to Earth. The images taken by the spacecraft has helped enormously in terms of understanding the ringed planet and its environment.

The Cassini spacecraft already started its ring-grazing mission towards Saturn's ring. It will capture the most detailed photographs of Saturn's ring by performing the closest approach to the planet's outermost rings. The spacecraft will perform a series of ring orbits from Nov. 30, 2016 until April 22, 2017.

Cassini will dive into Saturn's outermost ring after every seven days for a total of 20 dives. The peculiar orbit by the spacecraft will enable it to produce images that have never been attempted before. This is the reason why scientists are expecting a lot of scientific information from this phase of the Cassini mission.

One of Cassini's destinations is the F ring, 800 kilometers wide, the outermost ring of Saturn. The spacecraft will fly at about 7,800 kilometers distance from the ring, according to a report.  Aside from Saturn's ring, the current ring-grazing mission will also provide additional information about Saturn's companions.

There is little information known about some tiny moons called "moonlets" orbiting between Saturn's rings. Scientists are hoping that Cassini will be able to give light to Saturn's tiny satellites. Another anomaly that Cassini is expected to explain are the "propellers" found near the planet's A ring. Detailed images of the structure will provide scientists with new information about it. During the mission, Cassini will use two significant scientific instruments from its payload, according to a report.

"After nearly 20 years in space, the mission is drawing near its end because the spacecraft is running low on fuel," a NASA official said in a statement. "The Cassini team carefully designed the finale to conduct an extraordinary science investigation before sending the spacecraft into Saturn to protect its potentially habitable moons," the official added.

Cassini's final death dive will take place in Sept. 2017. The spacecraft will start its descent in April.


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