Science

10 breathtaking images from Cassini's ground-breaking mission of studying Saturn

10 breathtaking images from Cassini's ground-breaking mission of studying Saturn”

After 13 years orbiting the giant ringed planet and exploring its moons, the unmanned, nuclear-powered probe will be incinerated at 7:55 am EDT (4:55 am PDT) on September 15 in a planned maneuver that will see it plunge into Saturn's upper atmosphere.

"The mission has been insanely, wildly, beautifully successful", Curt Niebur, Cassini program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, gushed during a recent media teleconference.

Even then, Cassini will transmit new data about the planet's composition as long as its antenna remains pointed toward Earth, with the assist from small thrusters. The finale is significant because Cassini was the only spacecraft out of four to enter Saturn's orbit. Researchers think they may have gotten that way by being ground up, but are not sure what process might have made that happen, project scientist Linda Spilker said in an interview with CNBC. There are some huge gaps in the rings where the atmosphere is silent and less dusty.

The Cassini spacecraft is due to be killed off and will break up and crash into Saturn's atmosphere. "Between Voyager and Cassini was 30 years", Green said. Eastern Time for the spacecraft, but given the time it takes for the signal to reach Earth, we will receive those last bits of data just before 8 a.m. - long after Cassini is "gone". "It will radiate across the Solar System for almost an hour and a half after Cassini itself has gone", said Cassini project manager Dr. Earl Maize, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This Feb. 3 2017 image made available by NASA shows Saturn's shadow on its rings as seen from the Cassini spacecraft
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Cassini was not alone on its journey across the solar system as the Huygens probe went along for the ride.

Its final mission was a gravity assist around Saturn's largest moon, Titan, to set it on a collision course with Saturn's main body. Cassini-Huygens was actually two things initially: an orbiter (Cassini) and a lander (Huygens).

"We've had exceptional performance, and we couldn't have asked for much more", said Earl Maize, Cassini's project manager at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, per Scientific American.

The point of the Grand Finale is to keep Cassini away from crashing into Saturn's moons, as NASA wants to keep the conditions of Titan and Enceladus pristine for future exploration. Its seemingly endless stream of discoveries-from liquid oceans and other hints of habitability on Saturn's moon Enceladus to methane lakes and complex organic particles on Titan-are why its mission has been extended again and again.

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Cassini's final dive will end a mission that provided groundbreaking discoveries that included seasonal changes on Saturn, the moon Titan's resemblance to a primordial Earth, and a global ocean on the moon Enceladus with ice plumes spouting from its surface.

NASA released a statement in honor of Cassini's last flyby of Titan, the giant moon of Saturn, which took place on September 11.

Friday's final dive will see the probe travel closer to the surface of Saturn than ever before.

The Cassini space probe will be collecting scientific information right up to the moment it plunges into Saturn, and burns up.

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"Goodbye, Cassini! Your mission's fini".

They provided the probe's senses for studying the dust, gas and magnetic fields around Saturn and its moons as well as capturing optical and radar images at visible and invisible wavelengths. When Cassini arrived, the northern hemisphere of Saturn was emerging from winter.

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