Moon Birth and Methane Weather: Cassini's 7 Oddest Saturn Finds

Cassini to End 20-Year Mission With Fiery Crash

Cassini to End 20-Year Mission With Fiery Crash

It all went more or less like NASA had intended.

Much of what Cassini found concerned Saturn's moons. But the agency didn't want to risk Cassini accidentally crashing into one of these moons and spreading around Earth microbes.

Operators deliberately made Cassini, the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn, dive into the gas giant to ensure that the planet's moons - in particular Enceladus, with its subsurface ocean and signs of hydrothermal activity - remain pristine for future exploration.

The spacecraft tumbled out of control while plummeting at more than 122,000km/h. The signal that Cassini had reached its destination arrived at Earth at 4:54 a.m., and cut out about a minute later as the spacecraft lost its battle with Saturn's atmosphere. This includes the revelation of oceans on Titan and Enceladus.

Titan, a planet-sized moon Titan hiding dunes, mountains of water ice and rivers and seas of liquid methane, was also a factor in the plunge. When Cassini-Huygens launched we held our collective breath, until it was safely on its way.

"Maybe a trickle of telemetry left, but we just heard the signal from the spacecraft is gone, and within the next 45 seconds, so will the spacecraft". The mission already had achieved great success, and despite the chance of pounding Cassini with ring debris, flight controllers directed the spacecraft into the narrow gap between the rings and Saturn's cloud tops. Along the way, the spacecraft made countless other discoveries about the planet's rings, moons and atmosphere.

Cassini also discovered evidence of an ocean beneath the icy shell on Saturn's largest moon, Titan. And through Cassini, whatever fog of epistemic darkness that had settled on Saturn and its moons was pushed back.

Even as Cassini's fate was sealed, the spacecraft continued to make groundbreaking scientific observations of Saturn up until the last moment it was functional.

Now, its final encounter with the ringed beauty, will be its demise.

Cassini to End 20-Year Mission With Fiery Crash
These are the last close-up photos of Saturn we may see in decades

The Cassini mission to Saturn may be over, but scientists and the rest of humanity will be poring over images from the spacecraft for years to come. The spacecraft emptied its onboard solid-state recorder of all science data, prior to reconfiguring for a near-real-time data relay during the final plunge, NASA said.

Its instruments maintained contact with Earth until the last seconds of the probe's remarkable journey across the Solar System, sending data back to Earth in nearly real time.

Throughout its odyssey, Cassini sent back a wealth of information for us Earthlings to pour over. Project officials invited ground telescopes to look for Cassini's last-gasp flash, but weren't hopeful it would be spotted from a billion miles away.

Image gallery captured by Cassini during its space journey. The final signal was received by the Deep Space Network.

Just because Cassini no longer exists doesn't mean the work is over.

All of the mission's magnetosphere and plasma science instruments, plus the spacecraft's radio science system, and its infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers collected data during the final plunge.

Cassini was the first probe to orbit Saturn.

With Cassini running on empty and no gas station for about a billion miles, NASA chose to go out Thelma & Louise-style.

How Trump Can Get Tough on Iran
One entity engaging in activities in support of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) ballistic missile program. He then told the Wall Street Journal that he "would be surprised if they were in compliance [by the next deadline]".

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