This week marks another important milestone in the Cassini mission at Saturn – as of today, the spacecraft is conducting the last Ring-Grazing Orbit of its mission as it prepares for the Grand Finale, which will culminate in the death of the probe on Sept. 15. On April 21, Cassini will do its very last close flyby of Saturn’s largest moon Titan. Speaking of Titan, Cassini has also apparently solved a perplexing mystery; the unusual “magic island” formations seen in one of the moon’s methane/ethane seas are now thought to be caused by nitrogen bubbles fizzing periodically on the sea’s surface.
The Ring-Grazing Orbits phase began last Nov. 30, and consisted of 20 orbits which passed very close to the outer edge of Saturn’s rings. This presented a unique opportunity to study the composition of the rings as never before and send back the most detailed images of the rings from any spacecraft. Saturn’s northern hemisphere, including the famous “hexagon” jet stream, was also imaged in incredible detail.
“This is it, the beginning of the end of our historic exploration of Saturn. Let these images – and those to come – remind you that we’ve lived a bold and daring adventure around the Solar System’s most magnificent planet,” said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.
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