NASA has been all abuzz this week as Cassini, its Saturn exploring mission, prepared and took the first dive of its “Grand Finale”. This is set to end on September 15th, as the spacecraft will take its final plunge.
Cassini’s Grand Finale will involve 22 planned plunges through Saturn’s rings. This is a first time ever, as no man-controlled craft has ever entered this region. The first dive was carried out this week. It took almost a full day before Cassini reported back to the mission center. This much-expected communication came late on Wednesday night and early on Thursday morning.
Cassini Completed Its First Dive Out Of 22
Joan Stupik, who is a guidance and control engineer for the Cassini mission at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, gave an interview prior to this confirmation. To achieve its goal, the spacecraft has to pass through a 1,200-mile gap in Saturn’s rings. As it does so, it also turns its antenna into a shield, which also puts a stop to the constant communication.
According to Stupik, scientists have been studying the gas giant’s rings for over a decade. However, they have little data on the small gap they detected. This is on the inside of the innermost ring and the atmosphere from the ring’s end. And this is where Cassini comes in. As part of its dives, it will gather information on both these elements.
Stupik said: “We think that it’s clear of debris, but there’s a small possibility that there could be small bits of debris particles, flecks of dust in there… going up to 45 times the speed of a bullet”
She also stated that these dives would offer more than just one fantastic opportunity. They will also help scientists take a closer look at the rings themselves. This way, they may be able to establish which are the oldest one. And they can do so as they analyze each ring independently.
By determining their age, research could also possibly determine their composition and how they formed. Also, Cassini could help science by taking a peek inside Saturn’s interior. This could show how big it is, what it is made of, and also how its magnetic field works.
If all goes according to plan, and Cassini manages to complete its mission, its final plunge is scheduled to take place on September 15th. That is if it doesn’t come into contact with debris during one of its following plunges.
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