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Science & Space

Cassini makes flyby of Saturn moon

Spacecraft collecting data to study atmosphere of Titan

New photos of Titan were captured by the Cassini spacecraft.

• ESA: Cassini-Huygens
• Gallery: Cassini eyes Saturn
• Gallery: Mission to Saturn
• Interactive: Huygens' descent
• Interactive: Huygens in 3-D
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Space Exploration

(CNN) -- The Cassini spacecraft is making its fourth flyby of Saturn's moon Titan on Tuesday, passing just 982 miles (1,580 kilometers) above the moon's surface, according to NASA.

The spacecraft is using a variety of cameras and special filters to study the atmosphere, clouds and surface of Titan. The spacecraft will relay its data after completing its flyby maneuver tonight. NASA hopes to spot the site where the Huygens probe landed on the moon in January. The probe was jettisoned from Cassini last year.

Huygens, built by the European Space Agency, beamed back unprecedented images of the moon and recorded the sound of wind on Titan. It parachuted through the atmosphere and was the first spacecraft to land on the surface of an alien moon.

Cassini also will capture mosaic photos of other areas to study the surface features of Titan.

Images from Cassini and Huygens show valleys, streambeds and lakes or oceans. The geologic features were likely carved by liquid hydrocarbons such as methane or ethane. Temperatures on Titan hover around minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit (180 Celsius) and would immediately freeze any liquid surface water.

Titan's atmosphere, a murky mix of nitrogen, methane and argon, is believed to resemble Earth's atmosphere more than 3.8 billion years ago. It has intrigued scientists because Titan is the only moon in the solar system to retain a substantial atmosphere.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is an unprecedented $3.3 billion effort among NASA, the European Space Agency and Italy's space program to study Saturn and its 33 known moons. The two vehicles were launched together from Florida in 1997.

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