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NASA’s Cassini space probe is less than a month away from crashing into Saturn as part of its Grand Finale, but this week will see the probe take its closest look at the ringed world yet.
The Grand Finale portion of Cassini’s mission started on 22 April and sees the probe complete 21 orbits around Saturn before plunging into the gas giant on the 22nd orbit (set for 15 September).
Now, the space agency has confirmed that the probe has started its 20th orbit, set to be its lowest orbit before the final one.
— CassiniSaturn (@CassiniSaturn) August 23, 2017
“This is the third of five orbits in which Cassini’s elliptical orbit carries it so low that the spacecraft passes briefly through Saturn’s atmosphere. Cassini’s reaction control thrusters are at the ready to correct the spacecraft’s orientation in case Saturn’s atmosphere pushes on the spacecraft hard enough to cause any rotation,” NASA wrote on its website.
The orbit will also see the probe using its tools to study temperatures in Saturn’s upper troposphere, as well as directly sample the gas world’s atmosphere.
Cassini’s last orbit will take place on 12 September, before plunging into the planet on 15 September.
Featured image: Render by NASA/JPL-Caltech