February 21, 2018

Cassini's 13-Year Saturn Mission Ends With Grand Finale

15 September 2017, 07:58 | Anita Wise

The space agency has begun releasing the raw unprocessed images as Cassini prepares for its ‘death dive

Cassini has begun transmitting the final images of its mission revealing a last look at Saturn and its rings before the spacecraft plunges into the planet's atmosphere. This image was captured on September 13

Spacecraft designers "built a flawless spacecraft, right to the last end", said Julie Webster, spacecraft operations manager on the mission, at the press conference. The spacecraft communicated with Earth via the Deep Space Network, a series of telescopes around the world that keep contact with spacecraft that fly beyond the moon. By analysing the gravitational effect of the rings on Cassini - a force best measured as the probe plunges between the planet and the rings - researchers are narrowing down their estimates of the rings' mass, as well as the mass of the planet's core, says Luciano Iess, a planetary scientist at the University of Rome La Sapienza. Within about 30 seconds following loss of signal, the spacecraft came apart; and within a couple of minutes, all remnants of the spacecraft were consumed in the atmosphere of Saturn, NASA said.

The Cassini spacecraft has plunged into Saturn, sending back its final communications before burning up in the ringed planet's atmosphere. It had been forced to send it to Saturn where it would burn up and avoid accidentally landing on another moon - like Titan or Enceladus - which it might accidentally end up populating with aliens.

In April 2017, Cassini embarked on a final programme of 22 orbits of Saturn, each taking about six and half days to complete. "Well smile. And well want to go back", the U.S. space agency said.

Manuel Grande, head of Solar Systems Physics at Aberystwyth, contributed to building Cassini's plasma spectrometer and its cosmic dust analyser. And NASA didn't want to risk contaminating the moons or any future studies of them with Earth particles.

NASA is planning on live streaming from inside its mission control room as Cassini finishes its journey and is destroyed by Saturn.

Cassini streamed back new details about Saturn's atmosphere right up until its blazing finale on Friday.

The Cassini spacecraft which will be crashing into Saturn's environment was named after the 17th-century astronomer Giovanni Cassini. The probe discovered seasonal changes on Saturn, a hexagon-shaped pattern on the north pole and the moon Titans resemblance to a primordial Earth.

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Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004 and spent 13 years observing the planet with a suite of instruments.

Missions have been suggested to explore Enceladus, including its interior and the subsurface liquid body, Larry Soderblom, an interdisciplinary scientist on the Cassini mission, told CBC News.

The Cassini mission represents more than one generation of work at NASA and ESA, with development beginning in the 1980s. NASA rocketed it from the Cape Canaveral which is the Florida on October 15th, 1997.

The Cassini mission has been extended twice and finally used up the last of its rocket propellant this week. Saturn is an enormous ball of gas with no discernible surface, and when Cassini plunges in the probe will become a fireball.

One of Cassini's most important discoveries was the existence of a massive watery ocean under the icy surface of Enceladus that could conceivably harbour life. Cassini snapped over 450,000 images during its 20-year voyage.

This is because the signals, moving at the speed of light, will take time to travel the billion miles that separate Saturn and Earth.

At the edge of Saturn's B ring, the equinox shadows revealed structures that towered as high as 2.5 kilometers. The image was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on September 13, 2017.

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