Science

NASA's Cassini spacecraft's to soon crash into Saturn, marking end of mission

NASA's Cassini spacecraft's to soon crash into Saturn, marking end of mission”

NASA launched Cassini toward Saturn in 1997. The long duration of the mission allowed Cassini to study the moons in greater detail, such as Tethys which has a surface comprised of ice.

Faced with dwindling propellent supplies, Cassini's engineering team dreamt up an audacious plan to get the most interesting science results possible before safely disposing of the spacecraft.

"Some of our key science goals during the Grand Finale are trying to understand Saturn from the inside out, to figure out the length of a Saturn day and to determine the mass of the rings and the composition of Saturn's atmosphere", Spilker said. The spectrometer will attempt to investigate what material is from the rings and what material is part of the atmosphere.

If you want a visual update that includes experts from JPL, PBS NOVA featured a one-hour episode on Cassini, "Death Dive to Saturn" on Wednesday, Sept, 13, which is now available to stream.

For more than a decade the Cassini spacecraft has orbited the planet Saturn and visited its moons.

By 3:30 a.m., Cassini will be gone. It send back some gorgeous snapshots along the way and, now that its extended mission is complete, it's time for the spacecraft to perform the ultimate sacrifice.

"The Titan flyby was just close enough and just the right orientation to seal Cassini's fate", Cassini program manager Earl Maize, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said during a news conference Wednesday (Sept. 13).

US Spacecraft Cassini Readies for Fiery Plunge Into Saturn After 13-Year Mission

Why was Cassini's mission significant?

"We set out to do something at Saturn, we did it, we did it extremely well and we delivered more and more and we left the world informed, but still wondering", Maize said.

Cassini is being driven into Saturn's atmosphere to ensure that the probe doesn't contaminate the moons Titan and Enceladus - both of which may be capable of supporting life - with microbes from Earth.

Cassini also carried the Huygens probe, which landed on Titan, Saturn's largest moon, in 2005 and sent data about the moon's surface and atmosphere to Cassini for 72 minutes before the signal was interrupted by the horizon.

On the eve of its final descent, other instruments will make detailed observations of Saturn's aurora borealis, temperatures and polar storms. Scientists are instead more concerned about the final data Cassini can gather in its final moments of actual scientific value. Four years became thirteen, as Cassini continuously exceeded expectations and NASA kept discovering new tasks for the probe.

They provided the probe's senses for studying the dust, gas and magnetic fields around Saturn and its moons as well as capturing optical and radar images at visible and invisible wavelengths. Of Cassini's 162 targeted flybys of Saturn's 53 named and nine unnamed moons, 127 were of Titan.

The 22ft robot craft will break into fragments and burn up as it ploughs into the ringed planet's cloud tops, ending a 20-year mission that cost £2.9 billion. As it dives into Saturn, Cassini will be able to take measurements which could explain the phenomenon and in the process tell us more about how Saturn's rings formed and how they continue to interact with the planet. Images taken on October 28, 2016 with Cassini's wide angle camera using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this color view.

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