Cassini makes last close flyby of Saturnian moon Rhea

Mar 08, 2013 by Jia-Rui C. Cook
NASA's Cassini spacecraft will be flying close to Saturn's moon Rhea on Saturday, March 9, the last close encounter of Rhea planned for the rest of Cassini's mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(Phys.org) —NASA's Cassini spacecraft will be swooping close to Saturn's moon Rhea on Saturday, March 9, the last close flyby of Rhea in Cassini's mission. The primary purpose will be to probe the internal structure of the moon by measuring the gravitational pull of Rhea against the spacecraft's steady radio link to NASA's Deep Space Network here on Earth. The results will help scientists understand whether the moon is homogeneous all the way through or whether it has differentiated into the layers of core, mantle and crust.

In addition, Cassini's imaging cameras will take ultraviolet, infrared and visible-light data from Rhea's surface. The cosmic dust analyzer will try to detect any dusty debris flying off the surface from tiny meteoroid bombardments to further scientists' understanding of the rate at which "foreign" objects are raining into the Saturn system.

Cassini looks over the heavily cratered surface of Rhea during the spacecraft's flyby of the moon on March 10, 2012. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini will fly within about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) of the surface. The time of closest approach is around 10:17 a.m. PST (1:17 p.m. EST). This is Cassini's fourth close flyby of Rhea.

On Feb. 10, 2015, Cassini will pass Rhea at about 29,000 miles (47,000 kilometers), but this is not considered a targeted flyby. Cassini has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004 and is in a second mission extension, known as the Solstice mission. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. JPL is a division of Caltech. For more information on Cassini, visit http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov .

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User comments : 4

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VendicarE
not rated yet Mar 08, 2013
The surface has a much higher proportion of small craters compared to say the moon. Undoubtedly from the Saturnian rings.
aroc91
4 / 5 (1) Mar 08, 2013
Perhaps. I'd say it's a combination of that and Saturn's gravity well drawing in asteroids and meteors. It's mainly Jupiter that's credited with shielding Earth, but Saturn and their moons probably catch more than their fair share.
geokstr
1 / 5 (2) Mar 10, 2013
The article makes it sound like Cassini is on it's final legs. Is that the case, or are there still potentially many years of observation left in the old boy?
RealScience
not rated yet Mar 10, 2013
@geokstr - as the article says, Cassini is already in its second mission extension, the 'Solstice Mission', which runs until 2017.
No more Rhea flybys are targeted within that time frame.

It would be good if NASA can keep Cassini running well beyond that; perhaps we'll be lucky and Cassini will be technically capable and the current budget-cutting days will be over and Cassini can get a third extension.