NASA's Cassini spacecraft set to explore Saturn's rings
On November 30, Cassini will begin a daring set of Ring-Grazing Orbits, skimming past the outside edge of Saturn's main rings.
New Delhi: NASA's Cassini spacecraft begins its thrilling ride on Wednesday as it gets ready to get up-close to the rings of Saturn.
As per NASA, on November 30, Cassini will begin a daring set of Ring-Grazing Orbits, skimming past the outside edge of Saturn's main rings.
Cassini will fly closer to Saturn’s rings than it has since its arrival in 2004, beginning the closest study of the rings and offer unprecedented views of moons that orbit near them.
NASA says between November 30 and April 22, Cassini will circle high over and under the poles of Saturn, diving every seven days - a total of 20 times - through the unexplored region at the outer edge of the main rings.
"We're calling this phase of the mission Cassini's Ring-Grazing Orbits, because we'll be skimming past the outer edge of the rings," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
"In addition, we have two instruments that can sample particles and gases as we cross the ringplane, so in a sense Cassini is also 'grazing' on the rings."
The so-called 'Ring-Grazing Orbits' will be Cassini;'s last mission before plunging into Saturn's atmosphere on September 15, 2017 when it runs out of fuel.
During these orbits, Cassini will pass as close as about 56,000 miles (90,000 kilometers) above Saturn's cloud tops. Cassini's instruments will attempt to directly sample ring particles and molecules of faint gases that are found close to the rings.
During the first two orbits, the spacecraft will pass directly through an extremely faint ring produced by tiny meteors striking the two small moons Janus and Epimetheus. Ring crossings in March and April will send the spacecraft through the dusty outer reaches of the F ring - that marks the outer boundary of the main ring system.
In April 2017, the spacecraft will begin its Grand Finale phase, where Cassini will pass as close as 1,012 miles (1,628 kilometers) above the clouds as it dives repeatedly through the narrow gap between Saturn and its rings.
For the grand finale, NASA says Cassini is scheduled to perform a brief burn of its main engine during the first super-close approach to the rings on December 4.