NASA’s Cassini enters the never before explored region

Apr 27, 2017 09:56 IST

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made its first dive into the never-before-explored region between Saturn and its rings on 26 April 2017. No spacecraft has ever ventured into the region before.

To ensure no damage is caused to the scientific instruments on the spacecraft by the potentially damaging particles in the rings, the spacecraft’s dish-shaped high-gain antenna was manoeuvred face forward as a protective shield.

 NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft

Key highlights

• The Cassini team is not expecting the potentially damaging particles to be any larger than smoke particles.

• The team will use the data collected by the Spacecraft’s Radio and Plasma Wave Subsystem (RPWS) to determine the size and density of the ring particles in the gap, which would, in turn, aid them in future dives.

• Given the position, there are chances of the antenna sustaining minor damages like a small hole but the team expects it to still function properly.

• The spacecraft lost contact with Earth as it began its dive due to the forward orientation of the antenna.

• So, the result would be known only when it regains contact with Earth on 27 April 2017.

• If Cassini survives the first crossing then it would make 21 more before calling it a day in September 2017.

• The gap between Saturn and its rings is relatively narrow- 1900 km.

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Speaking on the development, Jim Green, Director of NASA’s planetary science division stated that they are in a waiting period at the moment and they won’t know anything for many hours until Cassini gets in a position from where it can radio back home.

Cassini has been orbiting Saturn since 2004. The spacecraft was launched in 1997 and now that its fuel tank is almost empty, NASA decided to impose this last dangerous but scientifically rich task on it.

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