Cassini Spacecraft Flies By Saturn Moon Titan For The Last Time

Cassini snaps a familiar object between Saturn's rings

The close flyby of Titan is set to alter the orbit of the spacecraft so it will pass through the gap between Saturn and its rings.

The planet Saturn is seen in the first color composite made of images taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on its approach to the ringed planet.

By destroying the spacecraft, NASA will ensure that any hitchhiking Earth microbes still alive on Cassini will not contaminate the moons for future study. For 20 years of traveling in the solar system, Cassini-Huygens was the first space probes have flown into Saturn's orbit and its Huygens first touched down on Saturn's moon called Titan in January 2005. The even smaller point of light is visible to the left of the Earth in the image.

Now, as its mission comes to an end, the spacecraft will change course, during which it will once again complete a close flyby of Titan, the United States space agency explained.

Scientists involved with Cassini's radar investigation will look at their last set of radar images of the hydrocarbon seas and lakes across the north polar region of Titan this week.

Cassini also will study Saturn's atmosphere and take measurements to determine the size of the planet's rocky core.

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"With this flyby we're committed to the Grand Finale", Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL, said in a press release.

Cassini received a large increase in velocity of approximately 1,925 mph (precisely 860.5 meters per second) with respect to Saturn from the close encounter with Titan.

Cassini captured this view of Earth and the Moon on April 12.

Cassini's fuel is running out, and therefore, the orbiter's work at the ringed planet is nearly done.

After the flyby, Cassini reached the farthest point in its orbital path around the planet at 8:46 p.m. PDT on April 22.

Technically, Cassini began its Grand Finale orbits at this time, but since the excitement of the finale begins in earnest on April 26th with the first ultra-close dive past Saturn, the mission is celebrating the latter milestone as the formal beginning of the finale.

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