Cassini Probe Plunges Into Saturn, Ending Mission


Friday, September 15th 2017, 9:42 am
By: News On 6


Thirteen years after reaching Saturn, NASA's nuclear-powered Cassini spacecraft raced through its 294th and final orbit Thursday, collecting priceless data while hurtling toward a kamikaze-like plunge into the ringed planet's atmosphere Friday, going out in a blaze of glory to wrap up an "insanely" successful mission.

Friday morning, NASA confirmed "Cassini's final dive is happening" and its final signal to Earth had been received. "Cassini is now part of the planet it studied. Thanks for the science #GrandFinale," NASA tweeted. 

During its last orbit, Cassini was programmed to snap a final few pictures of Saturn, its vast ring system, Titan and the small moon Enceladus Thursday in what mission managers were calling "the last picture show," before turning its large dish antenna toward Earth to transmit the images and other data back to waiting scientists.

Titan and Enceladus, which harbors a saltwater ocean beneath an icy crust, host potentially habitable environments and rather than risk an eventual collision with an out-of-gas Cassini -- and earthly contamination -- NASA managers opted to crash the spacecraft into Saturn to eliminate any possible threat.

Virtually out of propellant, Cassini used a final gravitational nudge -- a "goodbye kiss" -- from Saturn's smog-shrouded moon Titan earlier this week to precisely aim itself at a point on the planet's dayside 10 degrees above the equator.

"That final flyby of Titan ... put Cassini on an impacting trajectory and there is absolutely no coming out of it," said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "We are going so deep into the atmosphere the spacecraft doesn't have a chance of coming out."

"These final images are sort of like taking a last look around your house or apartment just before you move out," said Linda Spilker, the Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "You look at your old rooms, and memories across the years come flooding back. In the same way, Cassini is taking a last look around the Saturn system ... and with those pictures come heart-warming memories."

Cassini was not able to send images back during its final descent, but eight of its scientific instruments continued operating and beaming back data in realtime as the spacecraft, its antenna locked on Earth, slammed into Saturn's discernible atmosphere early Friday morning.

Traveling at a velocity of 70,000 mph, Cassini's demise was quick. Even so, scientists expect a wealth of data from the probe's final moments.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

During its last orbit, Cassini was programmed to snap a final few pictures of Saturn, its vast ring system, Titan and the small moon Enceladus Thursday in what mission managers were calling "the last picture show," before turning its large dish antenna toward Earth to transmit the images and other data back to waiting scientists.

Titan and Enceladus, which harbors a saltwater ocean beneath an icy crust, host potentially habitable environments and rather than risk an eventual collision with an out-of-gas Cassini -- and earthly contamination -- NASA managers opted to crash the spacecraft into Saturn to eliminate any possible threat.

Virtually out of propellant, Cassini used a final gravitational nudge -- a "goodbye kiss" -- from Saturn's smog-shrouded moon Titan earlier this week to precisely aim itself at a point on the planet's dayside 10 degrees above the equator.

"That final flyby of Titan ... put Cassini on an impacting trajectory and there is absolutely no coming out of it," said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "We are going so deep into the atmosphere the spacecraft doesn't have a chance of coming out."

"These final images are sort of like taking a last look around your house or apartment just before you move out," said Linda Spilker, the Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "You look at your old rooms, and memories across the years come flooding back. In the same way, Cassini is taking a last look around the Saturn system ... and with those pictures come heart-warming memories."

Cassini was not able to send images back during its final descent, but eight of its scientific instruments continued operating and beaming back data in realtime as the spacecraft, its antenna locked on Earth, slammed into Saturn's discernible atmosphere early Friday morning.

Traveling at a velocity of 70,000 mph, Cassini's demise was quick. Even so, scientists expect a wealth of data from the probe's final moments.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

","published":"2017-09-15T14:42:06.000Z","updated":"2017-09-15T14:55:11.000Z","summary":"

Thirteen years after reaching Saturn, NASA's nuclear-powered Cassini spacecraft raced through its 294th and final orbit Thursday, collecting priceless data while hurtling toward a kamikaze-like plunge into the ringed planet's atmosphere Friday, going out in a blaze of glory to wrap up an "insanely" successful mission.

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