Aberystwyth space scientists track end of Cassini Saturn mission

Aberystwyth space scientists track end of Cassini Saturn mission

Aberystwyth space scientists track end of Cassini Saturn mission

After 20 years in space, NASA's famed Cassini spacecraft made its final death plunge into Saturn on Friday, ending a storied mission that scientists say taught us almost everything we know about Saturn today and transformed the way we think about life elsewhere in the solar system.

"We won't watch Cassini burn up".

Cassini is on course to plunge through Saturn's atmosphere and vaporize like a meteor Friday morning.

This means that, although the spacecraft will begin to tumble and go out of communication at 6.31 a.m. EDT (4.01 pm India time) at Saturn, the signal from that event will not be received at Earth until 83 minutes later.

No other spacecraft has ever explored this unique region.

Tomorrow (Sept. 15) sees the final demise of the Cassini spacecraft, as it plunges into the atmosphere of Saturn, after 17 years of continuous discovery.

Cassini began its voyage back in 1997 and in its final week, the spacecraft looped between the rings of Saturn one final time, past Titan, Saturn's giant moon, for a farewell fly-by.

"The spacecraft's final signal will be like an echo".

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"This has been an incredible mission, an incredible team", Earl Maize, Cassini's program manager, said in mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory once the signal had been lost.

The potential for life on those two moons sealed Cassini's fate, with NASA deciding to purposefully use up the last of the spacecraft's fuel to destroy it in Saturn's atmosphere in an effort to prevent inadvertent contamination of the ocean worlds.

The facility is one of only three in the world capable of communicating with Cassini, and on Friday night, Saturn will be visible in the Australian sky.

On April 22, Cassini made a final flyby of Titan before using the moon's gravity to redirect the ship on to a new trajectory that would take it through 22 passes between the rings and the planet.

On Thursday, Cassini snapped its "last memento photos" of the Saturn system.

Today completed the last journey of the probe "Cassini".

During its mission, Cassini made numerous scientific discoveries and significantly changed the way we think about our solar system. The Huygens lander separated from Cassini and plopped down on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan shortly after the arrival. Cassini's iridium-encased plutonium power source was likely the last part to be destroyed, according to NASA. "We'll smile. And we'll want to go back", the USA space agency said.

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