Cassini readies final plunge into Saturn

15 September, 2017, 00:38 | Author: Cecelia Webb
  • Saturn probe heads towards destruction

Although Cassini has been in space for 20 years - seven spent traveling to Saturn, 13 within the Saturn system - microbes from Earth could still viably exist on the spacecraft without air, water or protection from radiation.

The dive that Cassini is now performing is the very last part of its Grand Finale which included 22 spectacular dives through Saturn's iconic rings.

These discoveries helped Cassini's scientists and engineers decide what to do with it once it runs out of fuel.

Inspired to learn more after flybys of Saturn by NASA's Voyager missions, the Cassini mission was created to be an global effort that united NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency. During the spring equinox, Cassini could capture the way the sunlight hit Saturn's rings edge-on, allowing researchers to measure the summits of mountains they saw rising from the rings.

The UVIS has already fostered "scores of dazzling discoveries" - including a salty, subterranean ocean on one of Saturn's moons which scientists think may have conditions favorable for primitive life. When the antenna shifts a fraction of a degree, contact with Earth will be lost and the probe will start to break up about 930 miles (1,500 km) above Saturn's cloud tops. Those cameras, over the years of photographing Saturn, its rings and moons, created some of the most visually attractive images of the solar system.

Launched in 1997 with the European Space Agency's (ESA) Huygens probe, Cassini is the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn.

Its destruction is expected to take only a matter of seconds. Now, the spacecraft is gearing up for a crash landing on the planet that it observed so thoroughly, as it flew past Titan one final time for a gravity assist that NASA called a final kiss goodbye. "It will radiate across the solar system for almost an hour and a half after Cassini itself has gone", Cassini project manager at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, Earl Maize said.




No images will be taken during the final plunge into Saturn, as the data transmission rate required to send images is too high and would prevent other high-value science data from being returned.

Her first stop would be Saturn's tiny moon Enceladus, where she would take samples of its ocean, which harbors numerous conditions needed to sustain life.

Even on the way down, the plucky spacecraft will continue to send back data. In all those observations, Cassini's cameras played an important role, said McEwen, who is a team member of the craft's imaging science subsystem.

NASA recreated a Cassini image of a backlit Saturn using a collage of about 1,600 photos of people waving at the ringed planet as part of social media campaign in 2013. This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 25 degrees above the ringplane.

"It's truly a first-of-its-kind event at Saturn". Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute. When Cassini arrived, the northern hemisphere of Saturn was emerging from winter.

NASA will be streaming video of Cassini's final moments with live commentary through several outlets, such as NASA TV, online at NASA's website and on the NASA JPL YouTube channel, beginning at 7 a.m. ET.

The whole mission cost £2.9 billion. The Cassini mission could barely compete in dinner time conversation up against missions to mars, especially not when it was only in the planning stage.

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