NASA space­craft em­barks on ring-skim­ming mis­sion at Saturn

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH -

Con­sider it a cos­mic carousel with count­less rings up for grabs. NASA’s Saturn-or­bit­ing space­craft, Cassini, has be­gun an un­prece­dented mis­sion to skim the planet’s rings. On Tues­day, Cassini got a grav­i­ta­tional as­sist from Saturn’s big moon Ti­tan. That put the space­craft on course to graze Saturn’s main outer rings over the next five months.

The first or­bit of this new ven­ture be­gins Wed­nes­day night. Then on Sun­day, an engine fir­ing by Cassini should seal the deal, with the space­craft mak­ing its first ring cross­ing. Launched nearly 20 years ago, Cassini will swoop down through the outer edge of rings ev­ery seven days. The space­craft should make 20 dives through April, ob­serv­ing some of Saturn’s many mini moons and even sam­pling ring par­ti­cles and gases.

This will be Cassini’s last hur­rah be­fore a sui­cide plunge into Saturn next Septem­ber. Saturn has five main rings, and other fainter ones, made up of chunks of ice and rock. First spot­ted by Galileo in 1610, the rings are named al­pha­bet­i­cally in or­der of dis­cov­ery.

In this un­dated photo pro­vided by NASA, Saturn’s icy moon Mi­mas is dwarfed by the planet’s enor­mous rings. Con­sider it a cos­mic carousel with count­less rings up for grabs.—AP

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