Published: Sat, September 16, 2017
World | By Carl Welch

Dramatic final moments for spacecraft Cassini

Dramatic final moments for spacecraft Cassini

The Cassini spacecraft is set to end its 13-year mission to Saturn by transmitting data until it plunges into the ringed planet's atmosphere.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft will complete its remarkable story of exploration with an intentional plunge into Saturn's atmosphere on Friday, ending its mission after almost 20 years in space. Before taking its final plunge, the imaging cameras of the satellite will take one last look around Saturn system and will send back pictures of moons - Titan and Enceladus.

The safe disposal of Cassini was viewed as the best way of avoiding the remote possibility of contaminating the pristine moons with Earth bugs.

On Sept. 15, Cassini will plunge into Saturn, sending new and unique science about the planet's upper atmosphere to the very end.

"One of the most handsome planets we can imagine", Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen said of Saturn during a press briefing. It yielded some of the most detailed photos of the iconic rings and the planet's North Pole ever seen.

Since April 2017, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has been writing the final, thrilling chapter of its remarkable 20-year-long story of exploration, its Grand Finale.

Loss of contact with the Cassini spacecraft occurred at 4:55 a.m. PDT (7:55 a.m. EDT), with the signal received by NASA's Deep Space Network antenna complex in Canberra, Australia, per a press release.

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"The spacecraft's final signal will be like an echo".

This Grand Finale, as NASA calls it, came about as Cassini's fuel tank started getting low after 13 years exploring the planet.

The facility is one of only three in the world capable of communicating with Cassini, and on Friday night, Saturn will be visible in the Australian sky.

Before its demise, however, Cassini is expected to beam back images and data gathered during its descent, which will be useful to scientists back at Nasa.

But none have studied Saturn in such detail as Cassini, named after the French-Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, who discovered in the 17th century that Saturn had several moons and a gap in between its rings.

The images collected through the Cassini mission are split into the in five parts.

One of Cassini's most important discoveries was the existence of a global watery ocean under the icy surface of Enceladus that could conceivably host life. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute) Saturn's active, ocean-bearing moon Enceladus sinks behind the giant planet in a farewell portrait from NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

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