NASA's Cassini Spacecraft to Take Slingshot Dive Inside Saturn's Rings

In fact, the team explained that they would not even immediately know if it even survived its first journey through the ring gap, as a status message sent by Cassini won't even arrive on Earth until approximately a day later.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has had its last close brush with Saturn's hazy moon Titan and is now beginning its final set of 22 orbits around the ringed planet.

By destroying the spacecraft, NASA will ensure that any hitchhiking Earth microbes still alive on Cassini will not contaminate the moons for future study. As a result, Cassini will start a series of 22 dives between the planet and its rings on April 26 instead of passing just outside of the planet's main rings.

The flyby marks the mission's final opportunity for up-close observations of the lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons that spread across Titan's northern polar region.

"Cassini's up-close exploration of Titan is now behind us, but the rich volume of data the spacecraft has collected will fuel scientific study for decades to come", said mission project scientist Linda Spilker, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This made Cassini's grand finale death dive more special since images like this is considered rare during the entirety of its mission. At this point, the mission will conclude with Cassini plunging into Saturn's atmosphere.

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Cassini received a large increase in velocity of about precisely 860.5 metres per second with respect to Saturn from the close encounter with Titan.

After buzzing Titan, Cassini coasted onward, reaching the farthest point in its orbital path around Saturn at 8:46 p.m. PDT (11:46 p.m. EDT) on April 22.

Cassini captured this view of Earth and the Moon on April 12.

NASA plans to crash the spacecraft into Saturn to avoid any chance Cassini could someday collide with Titan, the ocean-bearing moon Enceladus or any other moon that has the potential to support indigenous microbial life.

As Cassini passed over the moon, the lunar gravity bent its path and slightly changed the probe's orbit.

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