Cassini Prepares For Close Encounter With Saturn

NASA‘s Cassini spacecraft is getting ready for a close encounter with Saturn tomorrow. The spacecraft will take pictures of Saturn’s moon, Hyperion. Hyperion is large and shaped irregularly, and has a disorderly orbit around Saturn.

Hyperion is only 168 miles in diameter and its chaotic orbit around Saturn makes it difficult to be studied by scientists. Therefore, data extracted from this close encounter with Saturn by the Cassini spacecraft will prove to be valuable for scientists.

Encounter with Saturn Will Gather Many New Details

The Cassini spacecraft is expected to encounter Hyperion at only 21,000 miles from its surface, at around 9:36 a.m. EDT on Sunday. The most notable encounter happened on September 26, 2005, when the spacecraft got to a mere 314 miles away from Hyperion.

Scientists hope to be able to see details of the moon’s terrain, and see if they differ from previous documented information. Images of Hyperion will be beamed to Earth by Cassini. We already know that Hyperion appears to have a strange, spongy appearance due to its having a very low density for such a large moon. This means that it likely has a very weak force of gravity and that if something impacts its surface, the object may push the surface in instead of making a dent or crater.

Cassini Is Part of the Cassini-Huygens Mission Venture

The Cassini spacecraft is part of the Cassini-Huygens mission,  a partnership between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

So far, it has made several notable accomplishments on this mission. For instance, in 2005, it discovered evidence that icy sprays were forming on Saturn’s sixth biggest moon, Enceladus. Research later confirmed that there was hydrothermal activity on this moon, and reported that the ice sprays could be curtains or sheets, instead of being jet-like.

Cassini Continues Saturn Exploration Mission

Cassini will continue routing for its close encounter with Saturn next month, when it is expected to fly within 321 miles of the moon Dione. In addition, it will fly by Enceladus in October and get within 30 miles of the moon to get more data on the icy spray mystery.

Once Cassini has finished its mission of collecting data and taking photos of Saturn and its moons, it is expected to start making dives into the rings of Saturn some time in 2016.