NASA's Cassini spacecraft will be making its close flyby of the northern hemisphere of Saturn's moon Enceladus today, Monday, Dec. 20. The closest approach will take place at 5:08 PM PST (8:08 EST) on Dec. 20, or 1:08 AM UTC on Dec. 21. The spacecraft will zip by at an altitude of about 48 kilometers (30 miles) above the icy moon's surface.
Cassini's fields and particles instruments will get priority during this flyby. They will be trying to characterize the particles that may form a tenuous atmosphere around Enceladus and see if they may be similar to the faint oxygen- and carbon-dioxide atmosphere detected recently around Rhea, another Saturnian moon. The instruments will be particularly interested in the Enceladus environment away from the jets emanating from the south polar region. A goal of the observations will be to try to measure the rate of dust coming off the moon from the bombardment of micrometeoroids alone. These measurements will help scientists understand the rate of micrometeoroid bombardment in the Saturn system, which will help them get at the age of Saturn's main rings.
The composite infrared spectrometer and imaging cameras will also be active, looking for additional hot spots on the moon and taking pictures of some regions at a higher resolution than is currently available.
This is the 13th flyby of Enceladus in Cassini's mission and takes a similar path to the last Enceladus flyby.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C.