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Cassini gives Iapetus a wide berth

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The Cassini probe will not pass as close to the moon Iapetus as originally planned because of fears that the flyby will disturb the path of the $3.3bn space craft en route to Titan. Scientists have now tweaked the route so that Cassini will pass Iapetus from a greater, and therefore safer, distance, The Denver Post reports.

Larry Esposito, a space scientist at the University of Colorado and a member of NASA's Cassini science team said that the team was under a great deal of scrutiny.

After the failure of Beagle 2, and the crash-landing on the Genesis probe in Utah, the scientists on the team are doing everything they can in advance of the Huygens probe being dispatched to Titan to minimise the risks it faces. After all, this is a European-built Lander, scheduled to begin its descent to another world on Christmas day, and it will glide to the surface on parachutes just like those worn by the Genesis probe.

Genesis, sent to space to collect samples of the solar wind, crashed into the Utah desert on its return to Earth last month when its parachutes failed to open. After investigation it was determined that their activating switches had been attached backwards.

"There's a lot of attention being applied to this. We've adjusted some of our science operations, because of the challenges with Genesis," Esposito said.

The mission will fly its closest approach to Titan tonight. Scientists will study the composition of the atmosphere so that they can check the accuracy of their models. This additional information will be critical to those planning the descent and landing of the Huygens probe. ®

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Neptune shows off five new moons
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