Beacon Transcript – Cassini, the space mission which has revealed precious information about Saturn will be finishing its mission on November 30 with a last, final plunge through the planet’s rings.
The Cassini Orbiter has been an integral part of the NASA Saturn reconnaissance mission. The spacecraft was launched in October 1997 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
It has traveled more than 2.2 billion miles in order to reach the ringed planet and has been at an initial distance of about 934 million miles away from Earth.
As its primary mission was 4 years long, Cassini received two extended missions, Equinox and the Solstice.
The latter, which was initiated in 2010, will also be its final one as the orbiter will be ending its mission with one final plunge.
This definitive, final plunge will begin next Wednesday, on November 30 and will have an estimated ending date established for April 22.
Cassini’s final mission is considered to be quite a daring feat as the orbiter will be passing through Saturn’s rings.
The orbiter is predicted to have around 22 passes through the planet’s rings, each almost a week’s time long. As the passes will offer a new, closer looks at Saturn and its various moons, its potential risks are hard to determine.
Cassini will be diving through uncharted areas which have yet to be studied. As such, researchers find it hard to predict the potential, possible risks which the probe may encounter along towards its final dive.
NASA has named this final plunge Cassini’s Ring – Grazing Orbits and will be offering new videos of the mission.
Linda Spiker, a NASA scientist part of the California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory or JPL, went to explain the name.
According to Spiker, the name was chosen after taking into consideration the fact that the planet’s rings are the intended target of the mission, and not the planet itself.
Furthermore, Cassini will be collecting samples gathered from the respective rings. During its final plunge and dives, the orbiter will be gathering particle and gas samples.
The probe’s first pass will go through the outer rings of the system before taking a plunge that will stop just outside Saturn’s S Rings.
A narrow portion, the F ring is the name given to the area outside the planet’s main rings. As of Aprill 22, 2017, Cassini should begin its final plunge, the Grand Finale.
This will be marked by a dive in between the rings and the giant gas planet which will end when the orbiter will enter Saturn’s upper atmosphere.
Cassini will then catch fire, similarly to a meteor, and will make its final stand after a series of very important discoveries.
The 22 predicted plunges should gather enough data so as to compose detailed maps of the magnetic and gravitational fields of Saturn.
This may help scientists determine the exact speed of the planet’s interior rotation and also reveal important information about the rings.
As the probe should determine the ring’s material quantity and composition, researchers will be a step closer to determining just how they were formed.
Image Source: Wikimedia