Cassini makes final flyby of Titan before death plunge

Cassini gives Titan a 'goodbye kiss' as it takes a final glimpse of Saturn's giant moon

Cassini gives Titan a 'goodbye kiss' as it takes a final glimpse of Saturn's giant moon

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.

Navigators will analyze the spacecraft's trajectory following this downlink to confirm that Cassini is precisely on course to dive into Saturn at the planned time, location and altitude. NASA is disintegrating the Cassini probe on Friday, because its fuel is nearly to be finished soon. No spacecraft has ever ventured so close to the planet before, NASA reported.

Because the probe has so little fuel left, scientists made a decision 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.

NASA has outlined a timeline for the spacecraft's final week of activity, which will end just a month shy of the 20th anniversary of its original launch. At 6:31 a.m. Friday, Cassini will begin its descent with thrusters at 10 percent of capacity. Still, the astronomers are said to be catching glimpse of the flash on the earth.

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With this view, Cassini captured one of its last looks at Saturn and its main rings from a distance. However, Janus and one of Saturn's other moons, Epimetheus, share practically the same orbit and swap places every four years, creating a new crest in the wave, according to the statement.

The spacecraft's fateful dive is the final beat in the mission's Grand Finale, 22 weekly dives (begun in late April) through the gap between Saturn and its rings. During the video below, Cassini's altitude was said to drop from 45,000 miles to 4,200.

Little was known about the moon before the spacecraft sent the small Huygens robot to its surface in 2005.

In fact, one of Cassini's biggest revelations includes unveiling Enceladus - Saturn's icy moon - and the fact that it has numerous ingredients needed for life.

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Radio contact with Earth will be lost within approximately two minutes of the probe's entrance into Saturn's atmosphere.

Results from the Cassini spacecraft showed Enceladus has chemical energy that indicates life.

"Cassini is performing beautifully in the final leg of its long journey", Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize said in past news release.

Also, there is an interesting story behind end of the Cassini mission.

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