The Start of Cassini’s Grand Finale

Cue drumroll…

For the first time ever, our Cassini spacecraft dove through the narrow gap between Saturn and its rings on April 26. At 5 a.m. EDT, Cassini crossed the ring plane with its science instruments turned on and collecting data. 

During this dive, the spacecraft was not in contact with Earth. The first opportunity to regain contact with the spacecraft is expected around 3 a.m. EDT on April 27.

This area between Saturn and its rings has never been explored by a spacecraft before. What we learn from these daring final orbits will further our understanding of how giant planets, and planetary systems everywhere, form and evolve.

So, you might be asking…how did this spacecraft maneuver its orbit between Saturn and its rings? Well…let us explain!

On April 22, Cassini made its 127th and final close approach to Saturn’s moon Titan. The flyby put the spacecraft on course for its dramatic last act, known as the Grand Finale. 

As the spacecraft passed over Titan, the moon’s gravity bent its path, reshaping the robotic probe’s orbit slightly so that instead of passing just outside Saturn’s main rings, Cassini would begin a series of 22 dives between the rings and the planet.

With this assist, Cassini received a large increase in velocity of approximately 1,925 mph with respect to Saturn.

This final chapter of exploration and discovery is in many ways like a brand-new mission. Twenty-two times, the Cassini spacecraft will dive through the unexplored space between Saturn and its rings. What we learn from these ultra-close passes over the planet could be some of the most exciting revelations ever returned by the long-lived spacecraft.

Throughout these daring maneuvers, updates will be posted on social media at:

@CassiniSaturn on Twitter
@NASAJPL on Twitter

Updates will also be available online at: https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/grand-finale/milestones/ 

Follow along with us during this mission’s Grand Finale!

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

Happy Martian New Year!

For any planet, a year is the time it takes to make one orbit around the sun. Because Mars is farther away from the sun, it has to travel a greater distance than Earth. It takes Mars about twice as long as it does for Earth to make one circle around the sun…therefore, a year on Mars lasts twice as long.

On May 5, Mars passes solar longitude 0 as the sun crosses the equator on Mars. This is the vernal equinox and was chosen by planetary scientists as the start of a new year.

Mars has four seasons, roughly twice as long as those on Earth, but with more variation given Mars’ eccentric orbit and the fact its orbital speed varies more as a result.

Did you know that there’s a U.S. city named Mars? Mars, PA hosts an annual Mars New Year celebration and we’re participating in this two-day science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) event to inspire young people to pursue innovation and exploration.

More info on Mars, PA: http://www.marsnewyear.com/

Get updated images from the events in Mars, PA here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nasahqphoto/sets/72157683457751005/

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com