Cassini plunges to its death at Saturn, and humanity says goodbye

Friday, 15 Sep, 2017

Today it will dive into Saturn's atmosphere, and break apart, ending its 20-year journey.

"Cassini's discovery of ocean worlds at Titan and Enceladus changed everything, shaking our views to the core about surprising places to search for potential life beyond Earth". But it took that long for the news to reach Earth a billion miles away.

In April this year, Cassini embarked on a final programme of 22 orbits of Saturn, each taking about six and half days to complete. Hayes says that five generations of scientists and 17 countries worked collaboratively on the Cassini mission - teamwork that could only be possible with such a long-term project.

"I feel sad in a way that Cassini and MIMI have to end in this fashion, but I understand the necessity to do so", said Ray Thompson, who served as the instrument's principal technician. Even more congregated at nearby California Institute of Technology, which runs the lab for NASA. "Thanks for the science", Nasa tweeted. Team members were clearly emotional, he said. "And so for me, that's why it's truly a civilization-scale mission, one that will stand out among other missions, anywhere". When Cassini-Huygens launched we held our collective breath, until it was safely on its way.

It disintegrated into fragments and burned up in seconds as it plummeted at 77,000mph.

The 22ft robot craft, which launched in 1997, is running out of fuel so controllers have chosen to bring the mission to a fiery end. The spacecraft will make a deliberate plunge into Saturn's atmosphere to avoid the small possibility of it crashing into a potentially habitable moon, in particular Enceladus. In recent weeks, Cassini has beamed back information on Saturn's enigmatic rings that could answer fundamental questions about their make-up.

Cassini will enter Saturn's atmosphere at an altitude of about 1,915 km above the planet's estimated cloud tops, where the air pressure is 1-bar, equivalent to sea level on Earth.

According to the calculations of supervisors of the mission, the last signal from Cassini will be received at 14:55, 15 September, Kyiv time. "The mood of the team heading toward end of mission is a mix of joy and satisfaction, given the mission's enormous success, tinged with sadness at the impending loss of their stalwart spacecraft".

Four days later, just after 9.30am United Kingdom time and high above the planet, the probe reconfigured its systems to begin gathering data and transmitting it back to Earth in near real-time.

This false-colour mosaic, made from infrared data collected by Cassini, reveals differences in the composition of surface materials around hydrocarbon lakes on Titan. Nothing from Earth has landed farther.

No other spacecraft has ever explored this unique region. One of the most ambitious and successful space missions ever undertaken by Nasa, the spacecraft will also be long remembered for the lovely images it generated as it embarked on a two-billion mile journey with "fly-bys" of Venus, Jupiter and even the Earth. It was an worldwide endeavor, with 27 nations taking part.