Cassini preparing for final dive into Saturn's atmosphere

Terry Joseph
September 15, 2017

NASA's ever-shrinking budget could mean these questions get put on hold-especially since Cassini is proof that NASA should go big or go home. "Cassini will be followed up by future missions, I am nearly sure".

The gas was a sign of hydrothermal activity favorable to life, scientists said in April when they unveiled the finding.

"There's no doubt about it, we'll be sad at the loss of such an incredible machine", said Earl Maize, program manager for the Cassini mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge.

From orbit, Cassini has provided researchers with such a wealth of data that its mission was extended twice, first for the northern hemisphere's spring equinox in 2010 and then for the summer solstice in 2017.

"You showed us Saturn's rings, and lots of pretty things".

Cassini was not alone on its journey across the solar system as the Huygens probe went along for the ride. Also, it detected liquid methane seas on Titan.

In the final three hours or so before impact on Friday all data acquired by the spacecraft will be relayed straight to Earth, bypassing the onboard solid state memory.

"Goodbye, Cassini! Your mission's fini".

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MOONS: Saturn has 62 known moons, including six discovered by Cassini. JPL also exhibits a half-scale Cassini in its main auditorium in Pasadena, California. But JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter. Get Robert's monthly space updates delivered stra. It arrived six years later, having navigated the unsafe asteroid-belt that lies between us and Saturn, but with only basic instrumentation on board it wasn't able to gather much scientific data.

On several occasions in Cassini's 294 orbits around Saturn, the ringed gas giant eclipsed the sun giving the spacecraft the flawless opportunity to photograph the planet from a unique angle. Scientists wanted one last look to see if Peggy had broken free of its ring.

The reason NASA is destroying Cassini is because of the spacecraft's most astonishing discovery. Data from the spacecraft indicate Saturn's rings - which consist of icy bits ranging in size from dust to mountains - may be on the less massive side. "Almost like we've taken a magnifying glass to the planet and the rings".

On Sept. 15, the NASA spacecraft will take its final, fateful plunge through Saturn's rings.

If you're wondering why Voyager was allowed to continue on and Cassini is taking a death dive, the explanation is simple. Cassini made a close flyby of Saturn's moon Titan on Monday, a pass that slightly shifted the spacecraft's trajectory and sent it on a path leading into Saturn's atmosphere. By the early morning hours Friday, it was expected to enter its atmosphere and disintegrate. One idea is to fly through the salty plumes and capture material in case stray microbes are blasted out with it. "Cassini didn't have the instruments to make the measurements, to see if there might be organisms coming out with that briny spray", she said.

They have set many records and one of them is their planetary encounters that include the discovery of the first active volcanoes beyond Earth - on Jupiter's moon Io - and the most Earth-like atmosphere in the solar system - on Saturn's moon Titan.

The probe was scheduled to come back into contact with Earth the following day, on September 12, at around 06:19 p.m. PDT or 09:19 p.m. EDT. Mission Control will be live on YouTube, Ustream and NASA TV. With the chaotic gravitational interactions of a giant planet and multiple moons, there'd be no way to determine where Cassini would end up.

During the final plunge, eight of Cassini's science instruments will be collecting data until the last possible minute, including data on the composition and structure of the planet's atmosphere.

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