Cassini's 13 Years Exploring Saturn Just Came To An End

Richard Wilson

Richard Wilson

The Cassini orbiter took its final plunge into Saturn this morning, officially bringing an end to the successful mission.

"It's a bittersweet, but fond, farewell to a mission that leaves behind an incredible wealth of discoveries that have changed our view of Saturn and our solar system, and will continue to shape future missions and research", said Michael Watkins, director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, which manages the Cassini mission for the agency.

"I hope you are all as deeply proud of this unbelievable accomplishment".

Julie Webster, spacecraft operations team manager for the mission. "Project manager, off the net".

Earlier this month, NASA's Cassini probe embarked on a death spiral around Saturn's orbit. "Truly a blaze of glory".

Why 13 years?: The human probe launched in 1997. This means that we will not receive Cassini's last data transmission until 86 minutes after the fact.

The last flyby sealed Cassini's fate. The moon's gravity nudged Cassini on an irretrievable trajectory into the giant planet's atmosphere. Despite minimal risks, NASA, JPL and its partners crashed and burned it on Saturn to ensure that any stray microbes wouldn't get to Titan and other moons, which hold the potential to support life. After losing contact with Earth, the spacecraft will burn up like a meteor.

The Cassini spacecraft mission ends Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. The spacecraft continued to send back data even as it made its final approach into the ringed planet after spending almost 20 years in space.

During its fatal fall to Saturn, Cassini continued to send data back to scientists at NASA.

The 20-year-old journey of Nasa's spacecraft, Cassini concluded with its explosion in the space above Saturn. "Yeah!" he yelled, pumping both arms in the air.

The last image of Titan captured by Cassini. "It won't go very deep, because it is not a probe created to go deep, but still deeper than anything else". "We're just gonna track her now, all the way in".

"The spacecraft will be transmitting data until the very end, and we'll be there when it stops". The first event was Thursday, hours before Cassini's planned plummet into Saturn's atmosphere; the second is from 1 to 2 p.m. Saturday. Cassini has filled in numerous details, giving us an unparalleled look. This last route took Cassini in the gap between Saturn and its rings, the closest the vehicle has ever come to the planet. "That final plunge will allow us to do that".

"You can think of Cassini as the first Saturn probe", Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, told CNN.

When it hit the atmosphere, Cassini started firing its thrusters to keep its antenna pointed at Earth despite the forces of the atmosphere trying to knock it askew. It then proceeded to dive into Saturn's atmosphere at 120,000km/hr. The radio waves went flat and Cassini fell silent. And that signal itself lasted a full 30 seconds longer than anyone expected.

Mission team members embrace after the spacecraft was deliberately plunged into Saturn. "I'm hoping we can do it, I'm not going to promise". In the finale on Friday, the spacecraft met its glorified end.

Scientists are eager to return to Enceladus as they search for evidence that life could exist elsewhere in the solar system.

The 6.7x4 sq metre spacecraft is also credited with discovering icy geysers erupting from Saturn's moon Enceladus, and hydrocarbon lakes made of ethane and methane on Saturn's largest moon, Titan. For this achievement he received the Society's Gold Medal in 2014, as did RAS Fellow Professor Michele Dougherty, who led the Cassini Magnetometer team following on from Professor David Southwood (also a former president of the RAS, from 2012 to 2014).

"When you're at the earliest frontiers of exploration, it's hard to feel sad", he said. "Exactly as it always did". "It made discoveries so compelling that we have to back", he said. Little moon Enceladus is believed to have a global underground ocean that could be sloshing with life more as we know it.

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