Cassini Makes its 'Goodbye Kiss' Flyby of Titan

Cassini Makes its 'Goodbye Kiss' Flyby of Titan

Cassini is ending its 13-year tour of the Saturn system with an intentional plunge into the planet to ensure Saturn's moons - in particular Enceladus, with its subsurface ocean and signs of hydrothermal activity - remain pristine for future exploration, Dyches said.

On Friday, the 15 September, Cassini will send itself into Saturn, nearly 20 years since it left Earth.

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

"Cassini has been in a long-term relationship with Titan, with a new rendezvous almost every month for more than a decade", Cassini project manager Earl Maize, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

The phrase relates to Titan's gravity pushing the craft toward its final mission - a dive straight into Saturn's atmosphere.

In the 13 years that Cassini's been studying Saturn and its moons, it's flown by Titan pretty much every month for over a decade. No spacecraft has ever ventured so close to the planet before.

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Because the probe has so little fuel left, scientists chose to end the mission this way to avoid the spacecraft someday impacting one of Saturn's moons, at least two of which are potentially habitable for microbes.

The flyby also served as an opportunity to collect some final pictures and data on Saturn's largest moon, which has been a major focal point for much of the Cassini-Huygens mission.

Artist depiction of Huygens lander touching down on the surface of Saturn's largest moon Titan. They have been there prior to the advent of Cassini in 2004. The probe touched down on January 14th, 2005, taking hundreds of pictures of the moon's surface in the process.

Cassini's 22 Grand Finale dives between Saturn and its rings have revealed surprising features. 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.

Even though Cassini was sterilized before launching from Earth in 1997, it is possible some microbes survived on the spacecraft.

Radio contact with Earth will be lost within approximately two minutes of the probe's entrance into Saturn's atmosphere. We'll all miss you when you go!

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