Doomed Spacecraft Begins Final Dives Near Saturn’s Rings
Before NASA’s Cassini probe runs out of fuel, the bus-size spacecraft will perform a set of unprecedented orbits around the icy rings.
The curtain has opened on the Cassini mission’s final act. In the early hours of December 4, NASA’s long-lived Saturn explorer swung low over the planet’s F ring—the first of many ring-grazing orbits that will take place over the next four months.
It’s a major change of pace for the school bus-size spacecraft, which spent the past 12 years exploring the Saturn system. During its prolific mission, the craft mostly kept its distance from the ringed planet and instead swooped by some of the 62 enigmatic moons that spangle its skies.
Now, though, that changes. With its fuel running out, the spacecraft is thundering toward its final days in orbit around Saturn, and over the next nine months, Cassini will