Space Probe Will Have Near-Collision With Saturn Moon

Illustration for article titled Space Probe Will Have Near-Collision With Saturn Moon

The Cassini Space Probe will fly dangerously close to Saturn's moon Enceladus tomorrow, skirting along the edge of the moon's huge geysers to sample water-ice, dust and gas from their plumes. Cassini's particle analyzers will study the composition of the plumes in the hope of settling, once and for all, whether they may come from a buried ocean. At its closest approach, Cassini will only be about 30 miles from the moon, and the daredevil stunt requires amazing technical finesse. The image above is an artist's conception of the flyby. Click through for two gorgeous photos of Enceladus' crazy fountains.

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Illustration for article titled Space Probe Will Have Near-Collision With Saturn Moon
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Illustration for article titled Space Probe Will Have Near-Collision With Saturn Moon

Images by NASA/JPL. [Science Daily]

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DISCUSSION

They're not too worried about missing the Moon. Cassini's been around long enough that english-to-metric units aren't a problem anymore. A sand-gain-sized ice crystal in the spacecraft's path, however, could ruin the day for a lot of people. The potential science return (better magnetometer data of the subsurface ocean,if any, getting a new limiting size or directly imaging the cracks from where the jets are emitting, higher spectral resolution of the surface, etc) is worth it, but it's the largest gamble the mission has taken so far.