Cassini spacecraft preps for one last flyby of Enceladus

Cassini image of Enceladus over Saturn's rings

GOODNIGHT MOON On December 19, Cassini says farewell to Enceladus, seen here hovering over Saturn’s rings with the moon Tethys lurking in the background in this image from the spacecraft.

JPL-Caltech/NASA, Space Science Institute

So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, good night. On December 19, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft says “adieu” to Saturn’s moon Enceladus. At 12:49 p.m. Eastern, the probe will make a final pass by the moon, famous for towering water geysers and a saltwater ocean lurking beneath its icy crust.

Over the last decade, Cassini has revealed Enceladus to be one of the few potentially habitable locales in the solar system. Warm, salty seas and hydrothermal vents make Enceladus a tantalizing place to search for life outside of Earth. For its last gander at the moon, Cassini will measure how much heat is leaking through cracks in the ice where water vents into space.

The spacecraft will continue to orbit Saturn and visit other moons until September 15, 2017, when it’s scheduled for a fatal plunge into the planet’s atmosphere.

Christopher Crockett is an Associate News Editor. He was formerly the astronomy writer from 2014 to 2017, and he has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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