NASA’s Cassini probe is set to make its lowest pass yet over the south polar region of Saturn’s moon Enceladus in order to “taste” the icy particles spraying out from its surface.
The close approach will be at an altitude of 74km and is scheduled to occur at 19:30 GMT on March 27, 2012.
Scientists will use Cassini’s Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer instrument to learn more about the composition, density and variability of the plume from Enceladus.
The probe’s plasma spectrometer will also help astronomers study Saturn’s magnetic and plasma environment near Enceladus.
The composite infrared spectrometer onboard Cassini will be used to detect and locate the hot spots on Enceladus and the imaging cameras will be taking pictures.
In 2008, Cassini detected a spray of ice-crystals which ejected from a big liquid reservoir in the south polar region of Enceladus.
The spacecraft’s closest approach to any part of Enceladus occurred in October 2008, when it flew within about 25 kilometers of the surface at the equator.
Another flyby in October 2015 will bring Cassini about 25 kilometers closer to the Enceladus surface near the South Pole.
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