NASA to End Cassini's Run With Plunge Into Saturn

The probe will be traveling at 70,000 miles per hour. This animated video tells the story of Cassini's final, daring assignment and looks back at what the mission has accomplished.

"We put the probability of losing the spacecraft (early) at slightly over 1 percent", Maize said. "Certainly there are some unknowns, but that's one of the reasons we're doing this kind of daring exploration at the end of the mission". Titan's gravity will slingshot Cassini toward Saturn where it will (hopefully) pass between Saturn's upper atmosphere and the innermost D-ring.

This unique trajectory will allow Cassini to make incredibly detailed maps of Saturn's magnetic and gravitational fields, helping scientists understand what structures lie beneath the planet's atmosphere and, potentially, revealing the mechanisms behind Saturn's mysterious spin. So, although it may seem cruel to plunge Cassini into the very planet it has been teaching scientists about for 13 years, it will be a very noble death. It only seems like forever because Cassini has sent back so much incredible stuff.

According to NASA, the researchers hope to collect the first-ever samples of Saturn's atmosphere and particles coming from the main rings.

"This planned conclusion for Cassini's journey was far and away the preferred choice for the mission's scientists", said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

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But the beginning of the end for Cassini is, in many ways, like a whole new mission.

Mission team members are taking pains to minimize the dangers associated with this privileged view. Cassini's conclusion is both exciting and emotional as numerous team's members have been there since the beginning. "My oldest daughter started kindergarten when I started working on Cassini".

NASA's Cassini orbiter has done a hero's work since arriving at Saturn in 2004, but the aging spacecraft is reaching the end of its life.

But now Cassini is running out of fuel. "Ultimately, Cassini's discoveries (caused) its demise".

Cassini also discovered Enceladus' fantastic water plumes, which in turn helped reveal that the satellite hosts an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy shell. "We can not risk an inadvertent contact with that pristine body". It will also provide new details on the rings that could help pin down how they formed, whether from a moon that ventured too close to its parent planet or from material that never got a chance to gather into a moon. Astronomers do not want Cassini to someday crash into one of the Saturn's moons that could have conditions for alien life.

  • Regina Walsh