For the first time a space probe will soon (September) make a close encounter with the planet Saturn, the most distant of the seven original planets of the earth's solar system.
For the first time a space probe will soon (September) make a close encounter with the planet Saturn, the most distant of the seven original planets of the earth's solar system. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the United States has devised a computer animation of the probe's expected flight path.
SYNOPSIS: After travelling for six years, the Pioneer Two spacecraft is due to make a close approach and send pictures back from the farthest planet yet reached: 970-million miles (1,500-million kilometres) from earth.
If all goes well, the craft should circle the mysterious rings, although here it could run the risk of damage. If the outer reaches of the rings where Pioneer will fly contain well-spaced boulders, the spacecraft could survive: Such debris may bounce off the craft, But it would be destroyed if it speed of 22,440 miles (43,170 kilometres) an hour.
Saturn is the second largest planet in the solar system. The sixth planet from the sun, Saturn looks like a bright yellow star when viewed from earth. It is a diffuse mixture of helium and hydrogen, and it is thought to be lighter than water. Pioneer's mission is to relay back to earth about 100 photographs to help scientists determine its makeup.
Pioneer will also photograph several of Saturn's ten moons, including Titan, the largest known planetary satellite. Titan's surface and atmospheric conditions could be similar to earth's millions of years ago, and it is conceivable that it supports some primitive forms of life. After its flypast, Pioneer will leave the solar system and travel almost endlessly among the stars.