NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft is all set to run rings around Saturn this week. The agency engineers have been toiling hard whole year for a series of orbits that will take the space orbiter through the outer edges of Saturn’s F ring.
This will be the first time for any spacecraft to orbit in Saturn’s F ring, the outermost ring, as reported by NASA JPL.
Cassini spacecraft was launched almost 20 years ago and has been circulating around the ringed planet for more than 12 years. Orbiting the outermost ring will be the final feat for Cassini before taking the death plunge set on 15th Sep, 2017.
NASA has called this phase of Cassini’s mission “Ring-Grazing Orbits”, because the spacecraft wasn’t supposed to skim past the outer edge of Saturn’s rings as reported by Forbes via Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA, JPL, Pasadena, California.
The Cassini spacecraft is also equipped with two instruments that NASA will employ for sampling particles and gasses as the orbiter crosses the ring plane. It will be accomplished in first two orbits and thereafter the spacecraft will proceed to the outer F ring by March and April next year.
The spaceship just made its second to the last flyby of Titan. It was able to capture visible and infrared images of Saturn’s moon. Cassini built-in spectrometer will render a temperature map of Titan in helping out scientists to understand the atmosphere of the moon.
In case you are new to the subject, Saturn has five main rings, and the same was spotted by Galileo in 1610. Each ring is named alphabetically in order of discovery. The journey of Cassini started in 1997, with Saturn orbiting initiating in 2004. The spacecraft has logged 2 billion miles and is now running low on fuel. Hence, NASA planned Cassini’s demise in September 2017.
Following is a video by NASA depicting the Ring-Grazing orbits: