After 20 years of triumph, cassini nears its death

After 20 years of triumph, cassini nears its death”

After a 20-year voyage, NASA's Cassini spacecraft is poised to dive into Saturn this week careening through the atmosphere and burning up like a meteor in the sky over the ringed planet.

September 14, 11 p.m. EDT (8 p.m. PDT, 3 a.m. GMT on September 15, 5 a.m. CEST on September 15): final images expected to begin appearing online in Cassini raw image gallery. On Friday morning, the spacecraft will become a martyr to science as it plunges into Saturn's atmosphere. Think of the life we'll find in there! Of Cassini's 162 targeted flybys of Saturn's 53 named and nine unnamed moons, 127 were of Titan.

On September 15, 2017, NASA's Cassini spacecraft will make its final approach to Saturn, but this encounter will be like no other.

Launched in 1997, Cassini made the two billion mile journey to the second largest planet in the solar system, delivering a wealth of scientific data.

Why was Cassini's mission significant?

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.

The $US3.26 billion ($A4.06 billion) mission has given scientists vital information about two of Saturn's moons, Titan and Enceladus, as well as the planet itself and its icy rings. The Cassini mission could barely compete in dinner time conversation up against missions to mars, especially not when it was only in the planning stage.

Cassini gathered data on Saturn's famous rings and found they are made up of odd-sized clumps of particles - some as small as grains of sand, others that are miles long. JPL also exhibits a half-scale Cassini in its main auditorium in Pasadena, California.

Niebur and Spilker were quick to remind how different technology was in the 1990s. "I couldn't ask for more".

Cassini is firmly set on its crash course into Saturn, so it shouldn't need any help reaching its final destination. "We were able to see Saturn from many different points of view". It's surrounded by 53 confirmed moons and another 9 "moonlets", tiny worlds that are among the most exotic and diverse we've seen in this neck of the galaxy.

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. While Voyager was 1970s technology, Cassini is '90s technology. Some are spherical, much like our own moon, including Mimas, which, with its large Herschel Crater, resembles the Death Star from "Star Wars". Inside one of the rings is something unofficially called Peggy, which may be a moon that is either forming or disintegrating.

"Cassini first saw geysers erupting from the south polar region", said Adler Planetarium astronomer Mark Hammergren. Scientists believe Enceladus' subsurface ocean has all the ingredients necessary for life: liquid water, heat and methane. Saturn's many moons contribute material to Saturn's rings and magnetosphere, but these same moons also collect material that forms the rings and magnetosphere. "Almost like we've taken a magnifying glass to the planet and the rings".

The deliberate destruction of Cassini is by NASA is to ensure the craft's earthly elements do not accidentally contaminate Saturn's moons for future exploration. JPL will be hosting a private Cassini NASA Social which will be live streamed on YouTube, Ustream and NASA TV. The final dive on Friday is a dramatic conclusion to this unique, long and scientifically valuable goodbye.

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