NASAs Cassini probe completes final Titan flyby

Cassini heading towards final close encounter with Titan

A new stage of Cassini's mission is complete, starting now to explore the rings of Saturn.

An unprocessed image of Saturn's moon Titan, captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during its final close flyby of the moon on April 22, 2017, hints at features on the moon's surface. The spacecraft won't send word that it's okay until later today, and NASA won't get that message until 3AM ET tomorrow, April 27th. Saturn gives Cassini a big grin as the vehicle passes by snapping pictures.

NASA says it's likely to regain contact no earlier than 07:00 GMT on April 27, with its first images to be received a short time later, if all goes to plan.

According to NASA, the spacecraft had already transmitted images and other data to Earth after the farewell flyby to Titan.

This will be Cassini's final journey, as it is, perhaps fittingly, set to decommission itself by crashing through Saturn's atmosphere.

The Cassini spacecraft is going where no ship has gone before as it begins a series of dives into the space between Saturn and its magnificent rings.

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During its historic 20-year journey, Cassini has observed jets of water containing organic chemicals (including hydrogen) from one of Saturn's moons, which has led scientists to believe there could be microbes using chemical energy to produce methane and energy for life, Vox reported.

Google released a new homepage doodle on Wednesday to commemorate the Cassini spacecraft starting its "grand finale" voyage moving between Saturn and its rings.

Cassini scientists calculated the dramatic death of the spacecraft, which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004, with the aim of protecting Saturn's moons (Titan and Enceladus) from contamination from any biological material originating from Earth. "Between now and September, there will be a ton of new science on what's inside Saturn, how much the rings weigh, and fantastic detail on rings, ring-moons and atmosphere".

'Cassini is the quintessential "discovery machine", unearthing surprises everywhere it has looked in the Saturn system. The spacecraft has transformed the way we understand Saturn and its dozens of moons, revealing never-before-seen details of the planetary system and showing us lovely black and white views of the ringed world.

If Cassini survives this first round, it will make 21 more crossings before its demise in September.

Between now and September, when the mission will end, the probe will provide information that is expected to improve our understanding of how giant planets form and evolve.