February 21, 2018

NASA prepares for Cassini's grand finale on Saturn

14 September 2017, 10:52 | Anita Wise

Geysers of warm water from the sub-surface oceans of Enceladus

Geysers of warm water from the sub-surface oceans of Enceladus

"The mission has been insanely, wildly, beautifully successful", Curt Niebur, Cassini program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, gushed during a recent media teleconference. On its way, Cassini will dive through the unexplored space between Saturn and its rings.

During many flybys, Cassini monitored the dynamic Titan using its camera suite and an instrument called VIMS, a Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer.

"Scientists love mysteries, and the Grand Finale is providing mysteries for everyone", she added.

"At the time of its design, we had no idea that ocean worlds existed in the outer solar system", said Morgan Cable, Cassini's Assistant Project Science Systems Engineer of the Cassini. It is now too late to turn things around: Cassini's fate is sealed. The space agency says that Cassini's final transmissions will be picked up NASA's Deep Space Network complex in Canberra, Australia. If it's possible that moons like Titan and Enceladus might now, or could one day, harbor life, then humanity has a responsibility to leave such landscapes uncontaminated.

The spacecraft is being ditched in the atmosphere of Saturn on Friday, bringing to an end 13 years of discovery at the ringed planet.

"Goodbye, Cassini! Your mission's fini". These discoveries made by Cassini challenged NASA's understanding of the solar system and made Cassini's continued operation a risk, officials said.

Other space stations in Madrid and California will also help monitor Cassini.

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Audio for this story will be available after noon Wednesday. Get Robert's monthly space updates delivered stra. Nothing - not even traces of plutonium - should escape Saturn's deep gravity well. While Voyager was 1970s technology, Cassini is '90s technology. Some are spherical, much like our own moon, including Mimas, which, with its large Herschel Crater, resembles the Death Star from "Star Wars". Stunning pictures captured Saturn's weather, a once-in-30-years storm that engulfed the globe, and the changing of its seasons. Cassini also found that the moon Hyperion has a statically charged surface.

Saturn and its rings and, in the distance, the Earth.

While the mission itself is ending, the data and observations provided by Cassini will provide new details about the planet, its unique rings and moons for decades to come. "Because we were able to measure their composition with Cassini's instruments, we could show that (tiny particles from those eruptions) are the source of the E Ring".

Cassini gazed toward the northern hemisphere of Saturn to spy subtle, multi-hued bands in the clouds there. 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.

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The spacecraft is now on course to crash into Saturn Friday, when mission managers will lose touch with the spacecraft at about 7:55 a.m. ET. And without fuel, NASA can't control it.

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