NASA’s Cassini spacecraft obtained one final look at Hyperion, Saturn’s moon, after making its last flyby this past Sunday on May 31st. According to a report by NASA, the interstellar vehicle passed the moon at a distance of 21,000 miles at 9:36 a.m. EDT. Although this is not the closest it has traveled to the celestial body, it is still very near.
The moon, distinguished by its irregular shape, sponge-like appearance and chaotic rotation, was discovered in 1848. At its widest point, the moon spans 255 miles, and is believed to have once been part of a larger body. It is also the eighth largest moon in Saturn’s orbit, and possesses a very low density.
HISTORY OF NASA’S CASSINI SPACECRAFT
Back in 2005, Cassini flew extremely close to Hyperion, hovering only 310 miles away from the moon. This time around, however, researchers are hoping to retrieve some new information about Hyperion’s terrain, once images are sent back down to Earth either by today or tomorrow. Unfortunately, this task has not always been easy. Due to Hyperion’s chaotic rotation, it is very difficult for Cassini to focus on a particular region of the moon’s surface. Historically, most of the images obtained by Cassini have been of the same, familiar side of Hyperion.
Now Cassini will continue on its mission to examine several other moons before its operational life comes to an end. The next flyby will occur on June 16, when it will pass 321 miles above Dione – a small moon about 698 miles in diameter that orbits Saturn every 2.7 Earth days.
From there, Cassini will make two more flybys of Enceladus, Saturn’s 6th largest moon, which NASA refers to as “one of the most scientifically compelling bodies in our solar system,” mainly due to its icy jets that gush water vapor and gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia, and either carbon monoxide or nitrogen gas. For this reason scientists believe that Enceladus might hold the key ingredients life. On Cassini’s flyby, it will come as close as 30 miles to the surface before it continues navigating between Saturn and its famous rings.
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