NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is scheduled to fly by Saturn’s moon Titan today to learn more about the huge satellite’s thick atmosphere and frigid, sea-studded surface.
During today’s encounter – the 103rd Titan flyby for Cassini over its long operational life – the probe will skim just 2,274 miles above the moon at a speed of 13,000 mph, NASA officials said.
Cassini will bounce radio signals off the big Saturn moon toward Earth, where they’ll be picked up by the antennas of NASA’s Deep Space Network. Cassini did something similar during its previous Titan flyby on May 17, bouncing signals off the moon’s two largest seas, which are called Ligeia Mare and Kraken Mare. Mission team members will also send radio signals from Earth to Cassini through Titan’s atmosphere today, and the probe will respond with an identical signal. Cassini scientists have confidence they can pull it off since they did so successfully during the May 17 Titan flyby.
The Cassini’s operations have been extended through 2017, when the probe will end its life with a dramatic plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere.