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NASA's Cassini Spacecraft's Final Flyby Today of Saturn's Moon Titan --"Could Organic Molecules in Its Vast Lakes Form Cell-Like Structures?" (Today's 'Galaxy' Stream)

12 Sep 2017, 14:34 UTC
NASA's Cassini Spacecraft's Final Flyby Today of Saturn's Moon Titan --"Could Organic Molecules in Its Vast Lakes Form Cell-Like Structures?"  (Today's  'Galaxy' Stream)
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NASA's Cassini spacecraft is headed toward its Sept. 15 plunge into Saturn, following a final, distant flyby of the planet's giant "Early-Earth-like" moon, Titan. The intrepid spacecraft made its closest approach to Titan today at 12:04 p.m. PDT (3:04 p.m. EDT), at an altitude of 73,974 miles (119,049 kilometers) above the moon's surface, and scheduled to make contact with Earth on Sept. 12 at about 6:19 p.m. PDT (9:19 p.m. EDT). Images and other science data taken during the encounter are expected to begin streaming to Earth soon after. 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.
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. This lowers the altitude of its flight over the planet so that the spacecraft goes too deep into Saturn's atmosphere to survive, because friction with the atmosphere will cause Cassini to burn up.
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