Jan. 29, 2010 Sixteen days after last visiting Saturn's largest moon, NASA's Cassini spacecraft returns for another look-see of the cloud-shrouded moon -- this time from on high. The flyby on Thursday, Jan. 28, referred to as "T-66" in the hollowed halls of Cassini operations, places the spacecraft within 7,490 kilometers (4,654 miles) above the surface during time of closest approach.
While this latest close approach places Cassini more than 6,400 kilometers (3,970 miles) higher above Titan's surface than the Jan. 12 flyby, it should not considered of lesser scientific value. Instead, this high-altitude encounter will provide an opportunity for some of the spacecraft's instruments to gain another unique perspective on this crepuscular world.
During T-66, the Imaging Science Subsystem is set to acquire high-resolution observations during and after closest-approach, covering territory from the trailing hemisphere at high southern latitudes northeast to near-equatorial Adiri. On the inbound leg, the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer will have the opportunity to do one stellar occultation. (A stellar occultation occurs when an intervening body -- in this case Titan -- blocks the light from a star). Thursday's stellar occultation should allow the Cassini science team to further constrain the composition and the spectral properties of Titan's atmosphere.
Although this latest flyby is dubbed "T66," planning changes early in the orbital tour made this the 67th targeted flyby of Titan. T66 is the 22nd Titan encounter in Cassini's Solstice Mission.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter. The Huygens probe, built and managed by the European Space Agency, was bolted to Cassini and rode along during its nearly seven-year journey to Saturn, before being released for its descent through Titan's atmosphere.
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