Cassini concludes final fly by of Titan

Cassini heading towards final close encounter with Titan

NASA's Cassini spacecraft soared past Saturn's biggest moon for the last time on Saturday, tapping its gravity to slingshot into a series of exploratory dives inside the planet's rings, followed by a final fatal plunge into the gas giant.

By destroying the spacecraft, NASA will ensure that any hitchhiking Earth microbes still alive on Cassini will not contaminate the moons for future study. Even Earth's Moon is visible in a zoomed-in version of the image.

Scientists involved with Cassini's radar investigation will look at their last set of radar images of the hydrocarbon seas and lakes across the north polar region of Titan this week.

The planned imaging coverage includes a region previously seen by Cassini's imaging cameras, but not by radar.

The flyby also put Cassini on course for its dramatic last act, known as the Grand Finale. The Cassini spacecraft orbits Saturn, studying the planet and its moons.

"I think it is too early to eulogize Cassini on the occasion of its death, as incineration is five months away", Jonathan Lunine, director of the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science and a longtime member of the Cassini mission team, told USA Today.

Cassini received a large increase in velocity of approximately 1,925 mph (precisely 860.5 meters per second) with respect to Saturn from the close encounter with Titan.

Cassini heading towards final 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.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The so-called "Grand Finale" will begin on April 26 and end on Sep. 15. The spacecraft will make the next radio contact with Earth on April 27 during which it will send another batch of images and other data.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.

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

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

If all goes well, Cassini will repeat that orbit on a weekly basis until September 15, collecting samples of Saturn's atmosphere and measuring its mass and weight in the process, according to The Verge.

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