Cassini to sample magnetic environment around Titan

Feb 18, 2011 By Jia-Rui C. Cook
Artist's concept of the Feb. 18, 2011, flyby of Saturn's moon Titan by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Cassini spacecraft is set to skim close to Saturn's moon Titan on Friday, Feb. 18, to learn about the interaction between Titan and Saturn's magnetosphere, the magnetic bubble around the planet.

The closest approach will take place at 8:04 a.m. PST (4:04 p.m. UTC) and bring Cassini within about 3,650 kilometers (2,270 miles) of Titan's surface.

As Titan makes a complete 360-degree orbit around Saturn, the relative influence of the sun's illumination and the hot ionized gas trapped in the changes. These factors are important for understanding the relationship between Titan and Saturn's magnetosphere. It is important to make measurements at a variety of locations in the Saturn magnetosphere, so this flyby will occur in a part of the magnetosphere that has been poorly sampled so far.

Previous flybys have shown the magnetic environment near Titan to be rather variable and unpredictable. For 12 hours before and after closest approach, the Cassini plasma spectrometer instrument will be pointing in a direction to capture ionized gas in the region.

At the same time, Cassini's radio science subsystem will be gathering sensitive gravity data from Titan to improve understanding of the structure of the interior. Collecting data like these will eventually enable scientists to determine whether Titan has an ocean under its crust.

Other instruments will also be collecting data, much of it pertaining to seasonal change. Titan is currently in northern spring, approaching northern summer, and scientists want to know what has changed with the north polar winter vortex . The composite infrared spectrometer, for instance, will be mapping temperatures in Titan's stratosphere. The imaging science subsystem will also be monitoring the lakes, clouds and transport of in the Titan atmosphere.

This latest flyby is dubbed "T74," though planning changes early in the orbital tour have made this the 75th targeted of Titan.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL.

Explore further: Mysteries of space dust revealed

Related Stories

Cassini gazes at veiled Titan

Sep 23, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Cassini spacecraft will swing high over Saturn's moon Titan on Friday, Sept. 24, taking a long, sustained look at the hazy moon. At closest approach, Cassini will fly within 8,175 kilometers ...

Changing seasons on Titan

Oct 21, 2010

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has sent back dreamy raw images of Saturn's moon Titan that show the appearance of clouds around the moon's midsection.

Cassini Returns to Southern Hemisphere of Titan

Jan 12, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA'S Cassini spacecraft will return to Titan's southern hemisphere on a flyby tomorrow, Jan. 12, plunging to within about 1,050 kilometers (about 670 miles) of the hazy moon's surface.

Cassini Goes On

Aug 24, 2004

The Cassini spacecraft successfully completed a 51-minute engine burn that will raise its next closest approach distance to Saturn by nearly 300,000 kilometers (186,000 miles). The maneuver was necessary to keep the spacec ...

Recommended for you

Mysteries of space dust revealed

Aug 29, 2014

The first analysis of space dust collected by a special collector onboard NASA's Stardust mission and sent back to Earth for study in 2006 suggests the tiny specks open a door to studying the origins of the ...

A guide to the 2014 Neptune opposition season

Aug 29, 2014

Never seen Neptune? Now is a good time to try, as the outermost ice giant world reaches opposition this weekend at 14:00 Universal Time (UT) or 10:00 AM EDT on Friday, August 29th. This means that the distant ...

Informing NASA's Asteroid Initiative: A citizen forum

Aug 28, 2014

In its history, the Earth has been repeatedly struck by asteroids, large chunks of rock from space that can cause considerable damage in a collision. Can we—or should we—try to protect Earth from potentially ...

Image: Rosetta's comet looms

Aug 28, 2014

Wow! Rosetta is getting ever-closer to its target comet by the day. This navigation camera shot from Aug. 23 shows that the spacecraft is so close to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that it's difficult to ...

User comments : 0