Nine of Cassini's most exciting discoveries about Saturn

One last look at Titan on Cassni’s final journey.     NASA  JPL-Caltech
One last look at Titan on Cassni’s final journey. NASA JPL-Caltech
Author

15 September, 2017

Unlike other NASA missions to the outer planets, Cassini did not land on any US postage stamps.

The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft will make its plunge into Saturn's atmosphere on September 15, after 20 years in space.

Cassini's final chapter began with its last Titan flyby, on Monday (Sept. 11), which gave the probe the nudge it needed to head toward Saturn.

Milestones in Cassini's final dive toward Saturn in September 2017. NASA did not want to risk Cassini crashing into any of Saturn's moons and potentially contaminating them with microbes from Earth.

Scientists took the decision to kill off Cassini because of the remote possibility of the spacecraft colliding with Titan or Enceladus, both of which could be potential habitats for simple life forms.

It will be possible, but hard, to observe Cassini's death from Earth, due to the spacecraft's small size and the position of Saturn in the sky.

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.

After taking that picture, the probe will slowly rotate, aiming its Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) instrument toward Saturn and the antenna on its tail toward Earth.

From the inception of life, humans are interested in the unknown and for the exploration of far flung regions of space, the famous agency NASA had sent two spacecraft Voyager 1 and 2.

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With its solid-state data recorder empty, Cassini will shift into what Maize called "bent-pipe" mode - all of the data flowing into the orbiter will be relayed to Earth nearly immediately. About two minutes later, Cassini will burn and disintegrate completely - any traces of it will melt due to the heat and high pressure of the giant planet's hostile atmosphere. "It would be interesting to do a survey on Cassini's impact on the arts", said Lakdawalla. "We're a deep-vacuum kind of probe".

Live data will be streamed for the first time from Cassini via Canberra to the world in the early evening before the bus-sized spacecraft uses its last drops of fuel to manoeuvre directly into Saturn's atmosphere and begins its expected disintegration.

The team hopes to receive a signal for as long as possible while the satellite plummets into the giant world.

Even when Cassini launched neither father nor son knew that project would cause their careers to cross paths.

"The spacecraft's final signal will be like an echo". Most likely, that final signal will be data-only, Staab said. Why is the program ending now after 13 years?

"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. "We all developed sort of a natural feeling that we were on the spacecraft", Larry said.

On Thursday, the cameras took their final images of Saturn and its system. But that doesn't mean nothing can go wrong. "We're going to fly it into Saturn and it will be just quick and just like a meteor going into the Earth's atmosphere". The acting Ace would then send them on to the spacecraft. And that won't work for the people who control it back on Earth. "You're racing against the clock at that point", he said.

Cassini's mission has produced a treasure trove of scientific data and mesmerizing images. The spacecraft shall enter the atmosphere at around 10 degrees north latitude with an approximate speed of 70,000 miles (113,000 km) per hour.

"You plan for the worst but expect the best", he said.


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