It will be last time Cassini flies by Enceladus, and scientists will be on the edge of their seats.
Get ready for perhaps another huge scientific breakthrough: NASA’s Cassini probe is going to be making one last close flyby of Enceladus, the Saturn moon with oceans.
Cassini has already produced some amazing images of the moon, and this time it will fly past at a distance of just 3,106 miles from its surface Saturday, according to a Fox News report.
It won’t be the end of the Cassini mission — the hard-working probe will continue to collect data and images deep into 2017, including observing Enceladus, although it will come at a much greater distance than today’s approach.
Scientists will be using this flyby to figure out how much heat is coming from the interior of the moon, hoping to better understand the continuous sprays from the ocean that lies deep within its icy surface. Understanding this heat could help them better understand the moon’s geologic activity.
Cassini has actually gotten closer to Enceladus before. But scientists don’t want it to get too close this time around so its Composite Infrared Spectrometer can accurately observe heat flow on the south polar terrain of Enceladus.
The south pole of the moon is currently shrouded in darkness, so don’t expect any spectacular images from this flyby. But it will certainly be very important from a scientific perspective.
It’s the very fact that the south pole is in the midst of winter that makes it a good opportunity to study heat from the moon — the lack of heat from the sun can help scientists spot warmth that actually comes from Enceladus and not outside sources.
Back on October 28th, Cassini came within just 30 miles of the surface of the moon, moving through an erupting plume and sending back data that scientists are still analyzing.
Cassini has orbited Saturn since 2004, studying its many moons along the way.