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article imageNASA's Cassini spacecraft flies over Saturn's moons

By JohnThomas Didymus     Dec 10, 2011 in Science
Pasadena - NASA says its Cassini spacecraft will soon be making its closest pass over Saturn's moon Dione, and observing the atmosphere of Titan, the largest Saturnian moon. Cassini's closest approach to Dione would be about 61 miles above the surface.
The close approach will occur at about 1:39 a.m. PST (4:39 a.m. EST) on December 12.
According to NASA , the Cassini-Huygens mission will be looking to determine whether Dione's surface shows any signs of activity. Scientists are interested in collecting information that will help them understand how highly structured Dione's interior is. Cassini's radio instruments will determine how highly structured Dione's interior is by measuring variations in Dione's gravitational tug on the spacecraft.
Cassini will also be looking to determine whether Dione has a tenuous atmosphere like Rhea, another Saturnian moon. Guardian reports NASA scientists were thrilled last year when Cassini flying 97 km over Rhea in March, discovered the presence of oxygen in Rhea's thin atmosphere. Scientists are expecting that Dione's atmosphere, if it has one, would be more tenuous than Rhea's. Earlier investigation carried out by Sven Simon and his team at the University of Cologne, Germany, and published in the Geophysical Research Letters, found magnetic field disturbances around Dione suggesting that it has a tenuous atmosphere. But scientists in the Cassini-Huygens mission are hoping to acquire more direct evidence by investigating the space around Dione using Cassini's ion and neutral mass spectrometer.
Cassini enhanced-color composite of Dione  showing the darker  fractured terrain of the trailing hem...
Cassini enhanced-color composite of Dione, showing the darker, fractured terrain of the trailing hemisphere.
Cassini, according to NASA, will also approach Titan, the largest of Saturn's 62 moons, at a distance of 2,200 miles (3,600 kilometers) at about 12:11 p.m. PST (3:11 PM EST) on December 13. On its way to Titan from Dione, Cassini will be using its imaging science subsystem to examine Dione's distinctive surface fractures and a ridge called Janiculum Dorsa.
As it approaches Titan, Cassini's composite infrared spectrometer will take measurements to understand how seasonal transition from spring to summer affects wind patterns in the atmosphere near Titan's pole. Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer and imaging science subsystem will also be observing equatorial deserts where its imaging subsystem detected dramatic surface changes last year. Scientists have speculated that rainstorms might have caused these changes.
Cassini's imaging cameras will also be monitoring Titan for new weather systems.
A huge arrow-shaped storm blows across the equatorial region of Titan in this image from NASA s Cass...
A huge arrow-shaped storm blows across the equatorial region of Titan in this image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, chronicling the seasonal weather changes on Saturn's largest moon.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency, managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.
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