Cassini to make close flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus today

The flyby will take place at about 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT) Wednesday.

Updated: Oct 28, 2015, 09:42 AM IST
Cassini to make close flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus today
Photo credits: NASA/JPL-CALTECH/SSI

Washington: NASA's Cassini spacecraft is all set to make a daring plunge through one of the plumes emerging from Saturn's moon Enceladus.

The Cassini probe will make a close flyby of Enceladus on Wednesday, capturing samples and images in an attempt to characterize the moon’s internal ocean.

The flyby will take place at about 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT) Wednesday. This will be the 21st flyby of Enceladus by Cassini and the deepest-ever dive made through the Saturn moon's plume by the spacecraft.

The craft, travelling 19,000 mph (30,580 kph), will sweep just 50km above the moon's surface to unlock the hidden secrets of Saturn's water-world moon Enceladus.

Scientists believe a global liquid ocean exists beneath the frozen crust of the moon, which is 300m (500km) wide.

“Enceladus not just an ocean world - it's a world that might provide a habitable environment for life as we know it,” said Cassini program scientist Curt Niebur, in a media briefing on Monday.

“On Wednesday we'll plunge deeper into that magnificent plume coming from the South Pole than ever before. And we will collect the best sample ever from an ocean beyond earth.”

The NASA craft will also try to detect molecular hydrogen during the historic flyby.

Cassini will make a final visit to Enceladus on December 19 of this year.

Cassini is not equipped to detect life, but scientists hope Wednesday’s flyby will provide clues as to the possibility of it.