New Delhi: The US space agency NASA's Cassini spacecraft is all set to make its final close flyby with Saturn's haze-enshrouded moon Titan on Friday, April 21.
According to NASA, the closest approach to Titan is planned for 11:08 p.m. PDT on April 21 (2:08 a.m. EDT April 22). During the encounter, Cassini spacecraft will pass as close as 608 miles (979 kilometers) above Titan's surface at a speed of about 13,000 mph (21,000 kph).
The flyby will mark Cassini's final opportunity for up-close observations of the lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons that spread across the moon's northern polar region. It will also be the last chance to use its powerful radar to pierce the haze and make detailed images of the surface.
As per the US space agency, the flyby is also the gateway to Cassini's Grand Finale, a final set of 22 orbits that pass between the planet and its rings, ending with a plunge into Saturn on September 15 that will end the mission.
During the close pass on April 21, Titan's gravity will bend Cassini's orbit around Saturn, shrinking it slightly, so that instead of passing just outside the rings, the spacecraft will begin its finale dives which pass just inside the rings, as per reports.
The flyby is Cassini's 127th targeted encounter with Titan. A targeted flyby is one for which the spacecraft uses its rocket engine or thrusters to accurately aim toward the encounter.
Cassini's radar instrument will look for changes in Titan’s methane lakes and seas, and attempt for the first (and last) time to study the depth and composition of Titan’s smaller lakes.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency.