After more than eleven years spent in orbit on Saturn, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made its last flight over Enceladus, the largest of the small satellites that intrigued scientists with the presence of icy southern geysers in 2005.
On Saturday, December 19, Cassini made its last flight over Enceladus, passing at a distance of 3106 miles (5000 km) over the frozen, wrinkled surface of the satellite at a speed of 21,000 miles per hour. He collected scientific data, and also made stunning images, showing Enceladus crescent against the backdrop of the haze of Saturn.
During the flight, Cassini's Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) collected data on the distribution of heat at the south pole of a satellite, a region in which ice streams of water ice explode from long cracks in the surface called furrows.
It is already known that Enceladus, which is 320 miles (515 km) wide, has a global subterranean ocean, the source of geysers. What may exist in this ocean is a mystery to future missions. Cassini made his last visit.
"We look forward to future visits to this mysterious ice world," said Linda Speaker, a mission scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Cassini made so many discoveries about exciting Enceladus, but there is still so much to do to answer the key question: Does this tiny world have a life?"
Cassini will continue to explore Saturn until September 2017, when he begins his dive between the rings of the planet and further into its atmosphere, returning data as long as possible before being crushed by the terrible pressure of the planet.