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Spacecraft flies between Saturn and rings in historic 1st

Spacecraft flies between Saturn and rings in historic 1st

Cassini spacecrfat is a joint mission of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

Until the end comes, however, Cassini should continue sending back photos from its "grand finale" orbit between Saturn and its rings.

Last Friday, Cassini made its 127th and final close approach to Titan. The spacecraft won't send word that it's okay until later today, and NASA won't get that message until 3AM ET tomorrow, April 27th.

Google Doodle on Wednesday celebrates final phase of 20-year-old Cassini Spacecraft orbiting Saturn's Moon, Titan. Saturn gives Cassini a big grin as the vehicle passes by snapping pictures.

The first pass threading this needle close to Saturn began at 5 a.m. today, and although Cassini is not now in contact with the Earth - 870 million miles distant - it will continue collecting data on its way toward its ultimate destruction in the atmosphere of the gas giant's planet.




Cassini team member Luciano Iess, from Rome's Sapienza University, said plunging between the rings and the planet is a "dangerous moment for the mission". The mission will conclude with a science-rich plunge into Saturn's atmosphere on September 15. The mission is supposed to be all about Saturn but while Cassini-Huygens is traveling around Saturn, the scientist found something rare on the Saturn's moons, the Titan and Enceladus.

The rings around Saturn - a gas giant that is second in size in our solar system only to Jupiter - are thousands of miles (kilometers) wide, but only 30 to 300 feet (nine to 90 meters) deep. During this mission, Cassini will perform 22 such flybys in total, coming closer to Saturn than any spacecraft before it, just 64,000 kilometres (40,000 miles) from its centre. It then reached its farthest point in its orbit around Saturn (apoapse) on April 22nd, :46 p.m. PDT (11:46 p.m. EDT).

There's no turning back now for the Cassini probe at Saturn.

"The spacecraft is now on a ballistic path, so that even if we were to forgo future small course adjustments using thrusters, we would still enter Saturn's atmosphere on 15 September, no matter what". The spacecraft has transformed the way we understand Saturn and its dozens of moons, revealing never-before-seen details of the planetary system and showing us handsome black and white views of the ringed world.

"What we learn from these activities will help to improve our understanding of how giant planets - and families of planets everywhere - form and evolve", NASA says.

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