BEIJING, Aug. 2 (Xinhuanet) -- The Cassini spacecraft
will get a deep-space shower early next year when flies directly into a polar
geyser of Saturn's ice-spewing moon Enceladus.
Cassini's third flyby of Enceladus (en-SELL-ah-dus), set for March 2008, will see it within 19 miles (30
kilometers) of the Saturnian moon ¡ª almost six times closer than the
spacecraft's closest pass in 2005. The tight trajectory will move Cassini
directly into the icy geyser at the moon's southern pole, NASA official James
Green said during a teleconference today.
"Cassini was never designed to fly this close, but
we've just got to get in that plume and look at that material and see what it is
and where it's coming from," said Green, director of NASA's Planetary Division
Scientists think the geyser is 90 percent fine
water-ice crystals, but suspect that ammonia and methane gas are present as
Alan Stern, associate administrator for NASA's
Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said Cassini should fare well.
"It's very exciting because it's something Cassini
wasn't designed to do but should be able to do safely," Stern said.
If the planned flyby is approved within a few months,
Stern explained that the spacecraft's more delicate instruments will be pointed
away from the icy spray before entering the plume, leaving particle analyzers to
sniff out its composition.