Why NASA's Cassini spacecraft matters

Gwen Vasquez
September 17, 2017

One of the most successful space mission's, Cassini, has come to spectacular end.

Cassini, NASA's spacecraft created to obtain in-depth knowledge of Saturn and its surrounding bodies plunged into a choreographed death dive into the planet's atmosphere yesterday on 15 September 2017.

The Cassini had made scientists know what was never known before- it sent back to Earth fantastic photos and videos of the planet, which disclosed quite a lot about the planet, and even hinted towards the existence of life on one of its moons- Titan. These type of results have excited the scientists, and they are now focusing more on the exploration of icy oceans of the solar system, and for that, a mission has been finalized to begin from 2020 targeted towards the investigation of conditions for life on Europa, the moon of Jupiter.

Before its final plunge into Saturn's atmosphere, Cassini had executed roughly four months of final orbits between the planet and its rings-something that had never been done before-and also took goodbye photographs of Saturn, Titan, and Enceladus, among others. The image, which was taken using Cassini's wide-angle camera at a distance of 634,000 kilometres from Saturn, shows the planet's night side - lit by reflected light from the rings - and the location at which the spacecraft later entered Saturn's atmosphere.

Titan, in particular, has proven especially intriguing, and in many ways familiar. "To the very end, the spacecraft did everything we asked", he said. It is the only body besides Earth in our solar system to have standing liquid on its surface. Mission concepts under consideration include spacecraft to drift on the methane seas of Titan and fly through the Enceladus plume to collect and analyze samples for signs of biology.

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Launched in 1997, Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004.

The probe was plunged into Saturn's atmosphere earlier on Friday. "Cassini is becoming now a part of Saturn, and it's the flawless ending point", Alonge said. It's going to melt titanium in a minute. Cassini project scientist Linda Spilker captured the mood by noting that if there was one thing she could say to the probe, it would be "Thanks for the ringside seat...."

With the demise of the Cassini mission, there are no current plans to return to the planet nearly 750 million miles away.

Scientists have described the loss of the craft with a mix of pride and sadness.

Correction: Saturn is nearly 750 million miles from Earth, not 750 billion miles, as originally stated in this article.

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