Scientists are reporting that after 13 years, the spacecraft Cassini will be making its last round of the Saturn’s moon Titan before it is directed into Saturn directly to be destroyed in its atmosphere on September 15.
Titan, reportedly, is one of the only moons in our solar system that has an atmospheric shield and it is certainly one of the thickest. This was discovered by Christaan Huygens in 1655 but up until recently, we haven’t been able to see its surface because of the orange haze surrounding the moon.
In 1980, the Voyager One spacecraft did attempt to get the surface images but was not able to. After that, NASA and the ESA decided they need to return to Saturn system to explore the moon. With this in mind, they developed a probe called the Huygens which was planned to be sent to Cassini who would then deploy it to Titan. The probe would float through the atmosphere, land on its surface and send back data.
In 2004 the probe was sent from Cassini and soon after they started to receive images. Trina Ray, the Titan orbiter science co-chair at JPL said: “These images are coming in over the course of these hours (…) and there was one image that came by where you could see these channels[…]that you just knew that this was an Earthlike body. And just every picture that got revealed made it even more earthly. Little chips of water ice come off [the mountains] and get washed downstream, and then they get pushed up onto the beaches. They get dried out and then they get picked up by the wind and blown into the deserts. And around the entire equator of Titan is nothing but dunes as far as the eye can see — just like the dunes of the Arabian desert. But they’re made out of little chips of water covered in hydrocarbon goo.”
The probe only lived for 3 and a half hours. For the next 13 years, the Cassini spacecraft has been passing the Titan for more than 120 times, using the moon to plan its final trajectory towards Saturn. In September this year, Cassini will slingshot around Titan and will point itself directly at Saturn where it will burn up in this final moments.