Cassini's 'grand finale' begins with a dive through Saturn's rings

Cassini's 'grand finale' begins with a dive through Saturn's rings

Artist's concept of Cassini diving between Saturn and its innermost ring. NASA
Artist's concept of Cassini diving between Saturn and its innermost ring. NASA

An unmanned NASA spacecraft, Cassini, is ready to plunge into the gap between Saturn and its rings, the 'grand finale' to a pioneering journey that could offer an unprecedented view of the sixth planet from the Sun.

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NASA's Cassini poised to plunge beneath Saturn's rings

Miami, April 25, 2017, AFP – An unmanned NASA spacecraft, Cassini, is poised to plunge into the gap between Saturn and its rings, a pioneering journey that could offer an unprecedented view of the sixth planet from the Sun.

The first of the spaceship's 22 deep dives between Saturn and its innermost ring is scheduled for April 26 at 0900 GMT, NASA said.

Then comes a nail-biting wait.

Communications with the spacecraft will go dark during the dive and for about a day afterward, while it makes scientific observations of the planet.

If Cassini survives the trip, it could make radio contact with Earth as early as 0705 GMT on April 27.

"Images and other data are expected to begin flowing in shortly after communication is established," NASA said.

Cassini is a 20-year-old joint mission of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

The 6.7 meter spacecraft launched in 1997 and began orbiting Saturn in 2004.

Cassini is running low on fuel, and will make a death plunge into Saturn's surface on September 15.

The decision to end the mission was made in 2010, to avoid damaging moons like Enceladus, which could be explored for signs of life in the future.

Venturing between the planet and its rings for the first time represents "a dangerous moment for the mission," Luciano Iess, Cassini team member at Italy's Sapienza University of Rome, said at a meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna.

Skimming Saturn at an altitude of about 3,000 kilometers, the spacecraft will be closer than ever to the band of ice and space rocks that circle Saturn.

The debris move at a speed of about 109,000 kilometers per hour.

NASA

The rings around Saturn – a gas giant that is second in size in our solar system only to Jupiter – are thousands of kilometers wide, but only nine to 90 meters deep.

The spacecraft's final dives aim to offer a fresh look at the rings, potentially revealing more about their mass and whether they are old or new.

"If the rings are massive, this means that they are old. They can date back to the formation of the Saturnian system," Iess said.

"If the mass is small, then the rings are young and they have been formed by a different process."

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Vocabulary

  • agency (noun): a government department that provides a particular service - หน่วยงานราชการ
  • aim: to have as your purpose or goal - มีเป้าหมาย มีจุดมุ่งหมาย
  • altitude: height above sea level - ความสูงเหนือระดับน้ำทะเล
  • avoid: to try to prevent something from happening - หลีกเลี่ยง
  • band: stretch; a continuous area of land or water -
  • communications (noun): the process of sending information through television, radio, telephone signals and the internet - การสื่อสาร
  • contact (noun): having communication with someone - การติดต่อ การสัมผัส
  • dangerous (adj.): likely to injure or harm somebody, or to damage or destroy something - อันตราย
  • data: facts or information, especially when examined and used to find out things or to make decisions - ข้อมูล, ตัวเลข, สถิติ
  • debris: broken pieces that are left when something large has been destroyed - เศษ ซากปรักหักพัง  ซากสิ่งของที่ถูกทำลาย
  • dive (noun): plunge, falling quickly from a high position - การดิ่งลงมาจากท้องฟ้า
  • establish (verb): to start something - สร้าง, ก่อตั้ง, จัดตั้ง
  • explore: to examine something completely or carefully in order to find out more about it - สำรวจ,ตรวจ
  • flow (verb): to move continuously in one direction - ไหล
  • formation: the process during which something develops or is created - การสร้าง
  • fresh: new; made or experienced recently - ใหม่, เมื่อเร็วๆนี้, สดๆ ร้อนๆ
  • fuel: any material that produces heat or power, usually when it is burnt - เชื้อเพลิง
  • future: what will happen to somebody/something at a later time - อนาคต
  • gap: a space or opening in the middle of something or between things - ช่องว่าง
  • giant (noun): someone, something that is very large, much larger or more important than similar things usually are - ยักษ์
  • image: a photograph, painting, or other work of art that represents a person or thing - รูปภาพ
  • innermost (adj): nearest to the centre or inside of something - ซึ่งอยู่ส่วนในสุด
  • joint: done together; belonging to or shared between two or more people - ที่ร่วมกัน, ความร่วมมือกัน
  • journey: travelling from one place to another, especially when they are far apart - การเดินทาง
  • Jupiter (noun): the largest planet of the solar system, fifth in order of distance from the sun - ดาวพฤหัสบดี,ดาวจูปีเตอร์
  • launch: to send something out, such as a rocket into the air or into space - ปล่อย
  • mass (noun): the quantity of material that something contains - มวลสาร
  • massive: very large in size, amount or number - ใหญ่โต
  • mission: a flight into space - การเคลื่อนที่หรือการวิ่งสู่เป้าหมายของจรวด
  • nail-biting: (of a sports event, film, etc.) very exciting because you don’t know how it will end - ซึ่งวิตกกังวล, กระวนกระวาย
  • observation: the process of watching someone or something carefully, in order to find something out - การสังเกต
  • orbit (verb): (of a planet, satellite, etc.) to follow a curved path as it moves around another planet, star, moon, etc - โคจร
  • pioneering: introducing ideas and methods that have never been used before - บุกเบิก
  • planet: a large round object in space that moves around a star (such as the sun) and receives light from it - ดาวเคราะห์
  • plunge: to (cause someone or something to) move or fall suddenly and often a long way forward, down or into something - ลดลงอย่างเร็ว (เช่น ราคา, อุณหภูมิ)
  • poised: about to do or achieve something - ได้มาซึ่ง
  • potentially: possibly - เป็นไปได้
  • process: a series of things that happen, especially ones that result in natural changes - ขบวนการ, ,การเปลี่ยนแปลง
  • represent: to be an example or expression of something - แสดงให้เห็น, เป็นเครื่องหมายของ
  • reveal: to show something that was covered or hidden or not known - เปิด, ทำให้ปรากฎ
  • ring (noun): an object in the shape of a circle with a large hole in the middle - วงแหวน, วงกลม, วง
  • Saturn (noun): a large planet in the solar system that has rings around it and is 6th in order of distance from the sun - ดาวเสาร์
  • scheduled: planned to happen at a particular time or day - ตามตารางเวลา
  • sign: a piece of evidence that something is happening or that something exists - ร่องรอย
  • skim (verb): to move quickly and lightly over a surface, not touching it or only touching it occasionally; to make something do this - แล่นบนผิวของ
  • solar system: a star and the planets that go round it, especially the Sun and the group of planets that includes the Earth - ระบบสุริยะ
  • spacecraft: a vehicle that travels in space - ยานอวกาศ
  • surface: the outside or top layer of something - ผิวหน้า, ผิวภายนอก, ด้านนอก
  • survive: to continue to exist - รอดพ้น
  • unprecedented: never having happened before - ที่ไม่เคยเกิดขึ้นมาก่อน
  • venture: to go somewhere, especially somewhere that is unpleasant, dangerous or exciting - เสี่ยงภัย ผจญภัย
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