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A fiery end for Cassini, Saturn's space orbiter

A fiery end for Cassini, Saturn's space orbiter

Both Titan and Enceladus are now considered two of the best places to search for alien life in the Solar System, and the reason why NASA chose to ensure that the spacecraft will, in its final act, be programmed to take a trajectory that will ensure it burns up in Saturn's upper atmosphere. After 13 years in orbit around Saturn, and hundreds of fly-bys of the moons it was sent to study, the Cassini probe has nearly run out of fuel. So researchers decided that the spacecraft must be destroyed.

He is the NASA Cassini Project Manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The Cassini spacecraft has snapped its penultimate pics of Saturn's moon Titan.

It's been just under 20 years since NASA's Cassini spacecraft left Earth for its mission to Saturn - but in just a few days, it will undertake its Grand Finale, intentionally plummeting into Saturn's atmosphere to be pressurized into oblivion. No spacecraft has ever ventured so close to the planet before. "In fact, it's possible the most promising place to look for life in the solar system outside of Earth is among these oceans worlds in the outer solar system".

The engineers would work hard to get the spacecraft back on its feet, but Staab said the process would take 10 to 12 hours.

The probe was equipped with an instrument called DISR, short for Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer.

That's pretty much how Jason remembers it as well, he went to JPL got involved in a small project and "ended up out there for several weeks in the end if I recall correctly, which was great, a lot of fun, and that was kind of the beginning of my involvement in planetary science".

Cassini flew by Titan one last time on Tuesday before transmitting images and scientific data from the flight. What he called Cassini's "long-term relationship with Titan" ended with a September 11 flyby during which Titan deflected Cassini into an impact trajectory, "like a final kiss goodbye with Titan", Maize said.

Cassini Saturn Titan

MOONS: Saturn has 62 known moons, including six discovered by Cassini.

Those observations revealed details about the cycle of methane, which on Titan takes the role of water on Earth - forming clouds, raining down and forming lakes, as well as freezing into ice. This did a fast fly-by in November 1980, so only gave us a glimpse of Saturn, its rings, and its moons.

"This has been one of the cornerstones of NASA's unmanned space program for the better part of the last two decades and it is very unnerving to think about what the field is going to be without Cassini", Jason said. "The success with which Cassini brought together scientists from many different countries must be included in the long list of Cassini legacies".

"We saw that these plumes are quite large and extensive", he recalls.

Now in the final hours of a collision course with the ringed planet, NASA's Cassini spacecraft will plunge into Saturn's atmosphere on Friday (Sept. 13), where it will break apart, melt and disintegrate.

Cassini will be doing science even after being gripped by Saturn's gravity, pulling it into destruction, by measuring the composition, temperature and other properties of Saturn's atmosphere. "It won't go very deep, because it is not a probe created to go deep, but still deeper than anything else".

On Oct. 15, 1997, a rocket launched the Cassini orbiter and the Huygens moon lander into space where, in 2004, the two separated for their respective missions.

Sometimes that astonishment was able to reach beyond just the space community and attract the public at large, especially once social media emerged well into the Cassini mission's timeline.

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