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The international Cassini spacecraft went into safe mode this week after successfully passing over a Saturn moon that was the mysterious destination of a deep-space faring astronaut in Arthur C. Clarke's novel "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Cassini flew within 1,000 miles of Iapetus on Monday and snapped images of its rugged, two-toned surface. As it was sending data back to Earth, it was hit by a cosmic ray that caused a power trip. The spacecraft was not damaged, but had to turn off its instruments and relay only limited information.
Mission controllers recently sent commands for Cassini to resume normal transmission and the spacecraft could be fully functional by week's end.
A blast of galactic cosmic rays delayed delivery of Cassini's latest work by several days,
but the spacecraft automatically entered into a protective "safe mode" after the event,
according to a statement released by NASA. Had the energetic blast arrived a few days sooner,
however, the close-up imaging opportunity may have been lost due to the temporary shut-down.
NASA said that Cassini is operating normally, and its scientific instruments
"are expected to return to normal operations in a few days."
The Cassini spacecraft will perform its closest flyby ever of Saturn's ice-spewing moon Enceladus
early next year, moving directly into its icy polar geyser for a deep-space shower.
Cassini's third flyby of Enceladus (en-SELL-ah-dus), set for March 2008, will swing it within 19 miles
(30 kilometers) of the saturnian moon-almost six times closer than the spacecraft's closest pass to it in 2005.
The tight trajectory will move Cassini directly into the icy geyser at the
moon's southern pole, said NASA official James Green during a teleconference today.
I'm guessing these 'galactic cosmic rays' are a coronal ejection,
and that these temporary shutdowns are not uncommon.
High Energy Cosmic Rays and the Sun
There are two categories of cosmic rays: primary and secondary cosmic rays. Real (or "primary") cosmic rays can generally be defined as all particles that come to earth from outer space. These primary cosmic rays generally do not make it through the earth's atmosphere, and constitute only a small fraction of what we can measure using a suitable set of particle detectors at the earth's surface.