Cassini makes final flyby of Titan before death plunge

Final flyby puts Cassini on a collision course with Saturn

The geometry of the flyby causes Cassini to slow down slightly in its orbit around Saturn.

Washington, Sep 12 (IANS) On its course for the September 15 plunge into Saturn, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has made the "goodbye kiss" flyby of the planet's giant moon Titan.

Cassini has been on a 20-year-long journey.

In fact, one of Cassini's biggest revelations includes unveiling Enceladus - Saturn's icy moon - and the fact that it has numerous ingredients needed for life.

Cassini is ending its 13-year tour of the Saturn system with an intentional plunge into the planet to ensure Saturn's moons - in particular Enceladus, with its subsurface ocean and signs of hydrothermal activity - remain pristine for future exploration, Dyches said. Mission engineers chose to send Cassini to burn up in Saturn's atmosphere in part to protect any potential life-forms from contamination if Cassini accidentally crashed into Titan.

"There is no coming out of it", Cassini project manager Earl Maize said in a press conference on August 29.

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Titan is home to lakes and rivers made of liquid hydrocarbons, which may be hospitable to life unlike that on Earth.

Cassini's missions have revolutionised our understanding of Saturn, giving us a portal to look at the processes that shaped the development of our solar system, as well as planetary systems around other stars.

When the spacecraft arrived at Saturn in 2004, the planet's northern hemisphere, seen at the top here, was in darkness, just beginning to emerge from winter.

As it descends onto the planet, at around 940 miles (1,510 kilometres) above Saturn's cloud tops, communication with Earth will cease, and the spacecraft will break up like a meteor moments later.

Cassini collected images and instrument data during the final Titan flyby, but because the probe is now out of radio contact with Earth, these will be transmitted after contact is reestablished with mission control at about 6:19 pm PDT (9:19 pm EDT) on September 12.

Cassini will have been destroyed for about 83 minutes before its final signal reaches NASA's Deep Space Network's Canberra station in Australia.

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