NASA's Cassini Dives to Fiery Death Amid an Emotional Farewell
The end of Cassini's voyage, which began with its launch in 1997 and a seven-year journey to Saturn, was met with applause, hugs and tears from NASA officials after its final transmission was received, according to video footage on the space agency's website.
One of the last looks of Saturn as offered by Cassini. (Image: NASA)
The end of Cassini's voyage, which began with its launch in 1997 and a seven-year journey to Saturn, was met with applause, hugs and tears from NASA officials after its final transmission was received, according to video footage on the space agency's website. Officials at the news conference displayed the last set of images Cassini captured of Saturn as it crashed into the planet. The planet's lakes and seas near its north pole were visible, along with detailed views of gaps in its massive rings. Maize said Cassini's data, sent until the final fiery moment, was already being studied by NASA analysts in Arizona.
The transmissions are expected to include unprecedented data from the atmosphere's upper fringe, about 1,190 miles (1,915 km) above Saturn's cloudtops. The data took 84 minutes to reach NASA antennas in Canberra, Australia, Maize said. The final dive ended a mission that gave scientists a ringside seat to the sixth planet from the sun. The spacecraft's discoveries included seasonal changes on Saturn, a hexagon-shaped pattern on its north pole and the moon Titan's resemblance to a primordial Earth.
Cassini also found a global ocean on the moon Enceladus, with ice plumes spouting from its surface. Enceladus has become a promising lead in the search for places outside Earth that could support life. The spacecraft has produced 450,000 images and 635 gigabytes of data since it began probing Saturn and its 62 known moons in July 2004. Cassini, a cooperative project between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency, was launched into space in October 1997 from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
With the spacecraft running low on fuel, NASA crashed it into Saturn to avoid any chance of it someday colliding with and contaminating Titan, Enceladus or another moon that has the potential for indigenous microbial life. Cassini started a series of 22 orbital dives in April, using Titan's gravity to slingshot itself into the unexplored area between the planet and its rings. The spacecraft studied Saturn's atmosphere and took measurements to determine the size of the planet's rocky core.
Scientists took to Twitter to share their goodbyes.
"Farewell Cassini, how far you've come," astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said on Twitter. "On this eve, in fiery death, Saturn & you are one. VIP (Vaporize In Peace): 2004-2017."
Farewell Cassini, how far you’ve come. On this eve, in fiery death, Saturn & you are one. VIP (Vaporize In Peace): 2004-2017 pic.twitter.com/O0yff5bo7z— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) September 15, 2017
At 11:55:46 UTC today Cassini burned up high in Saturn’s atmosphere, becoming a part of the planet it had studied for 13 years.— Phil Plait (@BadAstronomer) September 15, 2017
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