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NASA's Cassini Spacecraft Dives Into Saturn to End Mission

16 September, 2017, 01:05 | Author: Priscilla Morrison
  • Cassini's Grand Finale Livestream: Watch Spacecraft Plunge Itself Into Saturn Skies Online

"It felt so much like losing a friend", she told reporters a couple of hours later.

More than 1,500 people, many of them past and present team members, jammed JPL for what's described as both a vigil and celebration.

Even though the end of a research project like Cassini is ceasing, astronomers have more deep-space projects up their sleeves.

The spacecraft tumbled out of control while plummeting at more than 122,000km/h.

In 1997, before Cassini ever launched into space, I went to a talk at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles (I was studying print journalism and astronomy at the University of Southern California then). It survived about 30 seconds longer than scientists expected. A child's laugh, a desert sunset and this morning. Congratulations to you all. Once the spacecraft ran out of fuel, NASA would not risk letting it remain aloft, where it might be knocked into Titan or Enceladus. Cassini has been exploring the 6th planet from the Sun - Saturn for more than a decade. Cassini successfully sailed through the gap 22 times, providing ever better close-ups of Saturn.

Cassini was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida in 1997, following which it spent seven years in transit and then another 13 years orbiting Saturn.

In 2005, the Cassini orbiter released a lander called Huygens on Titan, marking the first and only such landing in the outer solar system, on a celestial body beyond the asteroid belt. Nothing from Earth has landed farther. Along the way, the spacecraft made countless other discoveries about the planet's rings, moons and atmosphere.




In all, Cassini collected more than 453,000 images and traveled 4.9 billion miles. It was an global endeavour, with 27 nations taking part.

European space officials joined their US colleagues to bid Cassini farewell. Curt Niebur, a Cassini program scientist, during a NASA press conference, said that Cassini discovered Methane lakes on Titan, Saturn's moon and oceans on Enceladus, another moon.

Cassini helped confirm warm mineral water on Saturn's moon Enceladus, making the moon a potential breeding ground for life.

There were some lighthearted touches during the morning.

Even as Cassini's fate was sealed, the spacecraft continued to make groundbreaking scientific observations of Saturn up until the last moment it was functional. Parties were planned for the teams throughout the weekend, complete with Champagne.

"We wanted to keep the momentum going and keep highlighting all these incredible achievements in the astronomy world", Semmens said. Proposals are under consideration by NASA, but there's nothing official yet. During the spacecraft's frequent flybys of the icy moon thought to host a hidden ocean of liquid water beneath hundreds of miles of ice, scientists found hints of conditions favorable for microbial life.

"This is the final chapter of an awesome mission, but it's also a new beginning", Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator in Washington, said in a news release. And it will fall to a future mission to discover whether one of Saturn's potentially habitable moons could truly be home to alien life. The signal of its last message didn't reach Earth until 83 minutes after the spacecraft had vanished, due to its distant location.

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