Nasa's Cassini completes last flyby of Saturn's moon Titan

Nasa's Cassini completes last flyby of Saturn's moon Titan

As it descends onto the planet, at around 940 miles (1,510 kilometres) above Saturn's cloud tops, communication with Earth will cease, and the spacecraft will break up like a meteor moments later.

However, the probe's propulsion system is now nearly exhausted.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is headed toward its September 15 plunge into Saturn, following a final, distant flyby of the planet's giant moon Titan.

This distant encounter is referred to informally as "the goodbye kiss" by mission engineers, because it provides a gravitational nudge that sends the spacecraft toward its dramatic ending in Saturn's upper atmosphere.

The geometry of the flyby causes Cassini to slow down slightly in its orbit around Saturn.

Artist's conception of Cassini winging by Saturn's moon Titan (right) with the planet in the background.

The ship's instruments collected some final scientific data, including images, from Titan as it sailed by.

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Cassini has made hundreds of passes over Titan in its 13-year mission exploring Saturn and its moons. These included a total of 127 precisely targeted encounters at close and 4far range (like this latest flyby).

Among Cassini's discoveries are powerful hurricanes at Saturn's poles, with sizes up to 50 times that of hurricanes on Earth, noted mission project scientist Linda Spilker of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

The phrase relates to Titan's gravity pushing the craft toward its final mission - a dive straight into Saturn's atmosphere. The probe also provided high-resolution radar images of Titan's surface, which included topography and images of its northern methane lakes.

Little was known about the moon before the spacecraft sent the small Huygens robot to its surface in 2005. They have been there prior to the advent of Cassini in 2004. This was followed by a final close flyby of Titan on April 22nd, 2017, taking it to within 979 km (608 mi) of the moon's surface.

Cassini's missions have revolutionised our understanding of Saturn, giving us a portal to look at the processes that shaped the development of our solar system, as well as planetary systems around other stars. Last, but certainly not least, it conducted studies of Saturn's moon Enceladus that revealed evidence of a interior ocean and plume activity around its southern polar region.

Radio contact with Earth will be lost within approximately two minutes of the probe's entrance into Saturn's atmosphere. You taught so much in the past decade and we hope to follow up on it very soon.

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