Dec 02, 2016 04:55 AM EST
NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft To Run Rings Around Saturn This Week [VIDEO]
NASA will send the Cassini Orbiter on a cosmic carousel around Saturn this week.
NASA's engineers have been working all year to get Cassini into position for a series of orbits that will take the space orbiter through the outer edges of Saturn's F ring, the F ring is Saturn's outermost ring where no earthly spacecraft has gone before, according to NASA, JPL.
Cassini has been launched nearly 20 years ago and since been orbiting the ringed planet for more than 12 years. Grazing the outer ring is part of what NASA calls a series of increasingly awesome feats leading ultimately to Cassini's "Grand Finale" on Set. 15, 2017 when it is scheduled to embrace the planet it orbited in a death plunge.
Forbes reported that NASA is calling this phase of Cassini's mission "Ring-Grazing Orbits," because Cassini is expected to skim past the outer edge of Saturn's rings, explained Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA, JPL, Pasadena, California.
Additionally, Cassini is equipped with two instruments that NASA will employ to sample particles and gasses as the orbiter crosses the ring plane. This will be accomplished in the first two orbits where the probe will pass through an extremely faint ring that was created by meteors striking Janus and Epimetheus, two of Saturn's small moons. The spacecraft will them proceed to the outer F ring by March and April next year.
Cassini just made its second to the last flyby of Titan. The maneuver took visible and infrared images of Saturn's moon including mapping out it's north pole. Cassini will also employ its onboard spectrometer to render a temperature map of Titan to assist scientists in understanding the atmosphere of the moon.
First spotted by Galileo in 1610, Saturn has five main rings. The faint ones are made up mostly of ice and rock with each ring named alphabetically in order of their discovery. Cassini started its mission back in 1997 and started Saturn orbit in 2004, after logging in more than 2 billion miles in its journey, the space orbiter is now running low on fuel, therefore NASA intended Cassini's demise in September 2017.
Join the Conversation