The Cassini spacecraft, which has been in orbit of Saturn since 2014, is now preparing new maneuvers to enter the atmosphere of the gaseous giant planet. This is scheduled for September 15, the US space agency NASA reported this week.
The first maneuver will begin with a final approach to Titan, one of the moons of Saturn, already on April 22.
Containing 12 scientific instruments, this probe will perform, on April 26, its first descent into the unexplored space of approximately 2,400 kilometers that separate the planet from its rings.
“No spacecraft has ventured into this unique region that we are going to try to cross 22 times”, Thomas Zurbuchen, deputy director of NASA scientific missions, told AFP.
According to the researcher, the information collected after the last trajectories of Cassini, could allow a better understanding of the formation and also the evolution of the giant planets and planetary systems in general.
New and important discoveries were only possible thanks to the probe, such as the existence of a vast ocean on the icy surface of the Enceladus moon and seas of liquid methane on Titan.
The NASA agency will now have to decide how best to complete the mission to Saturn, since the Cassini spacecraft no longer has much fuel.
“Cassini will make some of its most extraordinary observations at the end of its long life”, said Linda Spilker, coordinator of the scientific mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
With the help of the probe, the team hopes to obtain data on the internal structure of Saturn and the origin of its rings, as well as unprecedented images of Saturnian mists.
As soon as it enters the atmosphere of the planet, the probe will continue to transmit information from many of its instruments, namely on the composition of the atmosphere, until the loss of its signal.
It was launched about 20 years ago in space, this probe bears its name to the Italian astronomer Giovanni Cassini (1625-1712), who discovered four moons of Saturn and observed the rings division of the planet.