NASA’s Cassini spacecraft finished its sixth and most dangerous dive between Saturn and its rings on May 28.
This plunging has been described as one of the most dangerous so far. That’s because the spacecraft made it’s direct dive through the D ring of the ringed planet which is exceedingly faint and located at the closest proximity.
Cassini spacecraft is a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. During the crossing, for the first time since its very first ring dive, which occurred in April, will turn its high-gain antenna dish to rest in front of it as a shield, NASA officials said. Also, researchers weren’t really sure whether the area between the rings and Saturn would be clear of debris.
This plunge was made by the spacecraft at 10.22 am EDT (7.52 pm May 28) and the astronomers expect to hear back from the spacecraft once it is back in contact with Earth by 11.29 pm EDT (8.59 am on May 29 GMT).
Astronomers have also identified six-minute period when the spacecraft will be cracking into the particles present between the rings. The plasma released by the clouds when the antenna dish is hit by the particles, would be identified by the Radio and Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) instrument of the spacecraft.
Along its orbit around Saturn, Cassini has been taking photos of the edge of the planet’s A and F rings and the space between, to investigate the rings’ structure and how their particles interact. It also used the Radar instrument to scan all the way from the A ring’s outer edge through the C ring, in the first of a three-part radio-wave experiment.
The spacecraft’s latest mission was to explore the D ring of the ringed planet. Cassini would have two more opportunities post this plunge to explore the innermost ring and get more data about this planet.
The grand finale
The final phase of its Grand Finale mission will start once it completes its 22 ring dives. The most fatal dive for the spacecraft will be a controlled fall into Saturn’s atmosphere. It will happen on September 15.
Until it loses contact and burns up, the spacecraft will continue to send data back to Earth. This will happen due to a possible contamination of Saturn’s moons by Earth microbes. Also because of the collection of invaluable details about the planet’s atmosphere in its last moments.