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Cassini Passes By Titan One Last Time
The Cassini probe is about to make the first of 22 dives in between the rings of Saturn and the planet's atmosphere (CCSS Level: Grade 8, Words: 423)
Apr 25, 2017 Science & Technology

Giovanni Domenico Cassini was an Italian mathematician and astronomer born in 1625. He was the first person to notice the division of the rings of Saturn in 1675 and now, over 300 years later, a space probe bearing his name is orbiting the plant. The Cassini spacecraft was launched by the American space agency on October 15, 1997. It reached Saturn's orbit in July, 2004 and has been studying the planet and its moons ever since.

However the little Cassini spacecraft is nearing the end of its ground-breaking tour of Saturn and the gas giant's rings and moons. NASA reports that Cassini captured farewell images of Saturn's largest moon Titan during its last close flyby of the moon.

The flyby marked Cassini's 127th close approach to the large moon. Passage through the gap, made at more than 110,000km/h, occurred at 9:00 GMT (10:00 BST) on Wednesday. The outside chance that Cassini could encounter rocky or icy particles at it crossed the ring plane meant it lead with its big antenna, as a shield. Because the satellite is moving so fast, hitting even a small piece of debris could do a lot of damage. It does mean, of course that with the antenna pointing away from Earth, Cassini was out of radio contact as it executed the risky gap-run.

The craft's final Titan encounter occurred at a distance of about 618 miles above the moon's surface. The images collected by Cassini include radar images of Titan's northern polar area which had been imaged before, but not yet studied using radar. Scientists hope to get a more detailed look at the moon's hydrocarbon seas and lakes via the radar data.

"Cassini's up-close exploration of Titan is now behind us, but the rich volume of data the spacecraft has collected will fuel scientific study for decades to come," Linda Spilker of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.

Titan is the size of small planet and lent its gravitational pull to Cassini's voyage. During the latest flyby, the probe used Titan's gravity to reposition itself for a series of passes between Saturn and its rings.

Cassini will next conduct 22 final orbits around Saturn and within its rings before plunging into the planet's atmosphere on September 15. "With this flyby were committed to the Grand Finale," Earl Maize of NASA said. "The spacecraft is now on a ballistic path, so that even if we were to forgo future small course adjustments using thrusters, we would still enter Saturn's atmosphere on Sept 15 no matter what."

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an expert in or student of astronomy



the gas around the earth or a planet; the mood or feeling of a place



separate into pieces, smashing



a chemical element that has two main forms (diamond and graphite) and that also occurs in charcoal



to carry our something wrong



hurt or cause harm



scattered fragments, typically of something wrecked or destroyed



a period of ten years    



study or look closely for information



material like oil or coal that is burned for heat



time still to come    



a force that pulls towards the Earth



a location equipped for scientific experiments



to send or shoot a rocket into outer space / to get moving



become aware of



happen; take place






the path around a planet or star



moving in orbit around (a star, planet, or moon)



the curved path of an object or spacecraft around a star, planet, or moon



physically explore or examine (something) with the hands or an instrument



the chance of something happening



having an uneven or irregular surface; not smooth or level



an object in space going round the Earth to collect information



the sixth planet from the sun in the solar system, circled by a system of broad, flat rings



based on the methods and principles of science



experts in science, people who study science



a number of things coming one after another



a ship that flies in space



the top, or the outer layer



push, the force of an engine



sight, seeing



a long journey by sea or in space