The countdown is on for the Cassini probe’s latest close encounter with Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Slated for 5:57 pm PST, February 16 (1:57 AM, February 17, UTC), Cassini will approach within 1,229 miles (1,978 km) from the surface of Titan at a blazing speed of 13,000 mph (5.8 km/s).
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explains:
During the Solstice mission, a main science objective is to measure Titan’s gravitational field in order to confirm or deny the presence of an underground ocean. Additional radio science (RSS) gravity observations are needed both to answer this question and to help determine if Titan’s crust is thick and rigid, or thin.
The spacecraft is slated for only four encounters with Titan during the Solstice mission, and scientists hope to get the most out of each pass.
Raw images usually post fairly quickly, so we can expect new glimpses of Titan in the coming days.
Meanwhile, a trivial bit: Did you know that the International Astronomical Union names Titan’s mountains after Middle Earth, from J.R.R. Tolkein’s novels?