NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has begun transmitting data and images from its final close fly-by of Saturn’s active moon Enceladus.
Cassini passed Enceladus at a distance of 4,999 kilometres.
“This final Enceladus fly-by elicits feelings of both sadness and triumph,” said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL.
“While we’re sad to have the close fly-bys behind us, we’ve placed the capstone on an incredible decade of investigating one of the most intriguing bodies in the solar system.”
Cassini will continue to monitor activity on Enceladus from a distance, until the end of its mission in September 2017.
This was the 22nd Enceladus encounter of Cassini’s mission. The spacecraft’s discovery of geologic activity there, not long after arriving at Saturn, prompted changes to the mission’s flight plan to maximise the number and quality of fly-bys of the icy moon.
“We bid a poignant goodbye to our close views of this amazing icy world,” said Linda Spilker, the mission’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
“Cassini has made so many breathtaking discoveries about Enceladus, yet so much more remains to be done to answer that pivotal question, ‘Does this tiny ocean world harbor life?'”
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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