Saturn Moon Tethys' Giant Canyon Snakes into Darkness in Cassini Photo


In fact, the team explained that they would not even immediately know if it even survived its first journey through the ring gap, as a status message sent by Cassini won't even arrive on Earth until approximately a day later.

The latest example came a few days ago from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which is now orbiting Saturn.

This cropped, zoomed-in version of the above image makes it easier to see the Moon - a smaller, fainter dot to the left of Earth's bright dot.

"Cassini's up-close exploration of Titan is now behind us, but the rich volume of data the spacecraft has collected will fuel scientific study for decades to come", Linda Spilker, the mission's project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement Monday. This flyby is the last dramatic act for Cassini before it starts its Grand finale.

Cassini project manager Earl Maize, from JPL, said that the probe is now on a ballistic path, which means that even if there would be no small course adjustments using the probe's thrusters in the future, Cassini would still get into the planet's atmosphere on September 15. At this point, the mission will conclude with Cassini plunging into Saturn's atmosphere. After the flyby, Cassini will begin a series of dives between the rings and the planet.

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However, Cassini did not only make a Titan flyby.

The canyon is said to be up to 60 miles wide and runs almost three-fourths of the way around Saturn's icy moon.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency.

Before the mission finally comes to an end, Cassini will make a last, distant flyby of Titan on September 11, a maneuver that will ensure the spacecraft doesn't crash into Enceladus, an ocean-moon of Saturn that is potentially habitable. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.