The National Aeronautics and Space Administration probe Cassini on Monday flew to within 1,20,000 km of its giant moon Titan, correcting its course enough to set it up for a collision with Saturn’s atmosphere, BBC reported. The spacecraft has now gone into a “death plunge” that will see its components melt and disperse as it heads through Saturn’s clouds on September 15.
Cassini has been on a 20-year-long journey. It first arrived near Saturn 13 years ago, and has been using Titan’s gravity to slingshot itself into various positions from which to study Saturn and its rings. This allowed Cassini to conduct its investigations without using up its fuel quickly.
However, the probe’s propulsion system is now almost exhausted. “Cassini has been in a long-term relationship with Titan, with a new rendezvous nearly every month for more than a decade,” said Earl Maize, the Cassini project manager at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the United States. “This final encounter is something of a bittersweet goodbye, but as it has done throughout the mission, Titan’s gravity is once again sending Cassini where we need it to go.”
The images and data that Cassini gathered during its closest approach to Titan on Monday will be sent back to Earth on Tuesday.