Friday, 24 November, 2017

Astronomers bid farewell to $3.9-B Saturn spacecraft

Cassini has begun transmitting the final images of its mission revealing a last look at Saturn and its rings before the spacecraft plunges into the planet's atmosphere. This image was captured on September 13 The space agency has begun releasing the raw unprocessed images as Cassini prepares for its ‘death dive
Christy Curtis | 16 September, 2017, 00:13

A NASA space probe which has been orbiting Saturn for the last 13 years has ended its mission with a spectacular suicide dive into the ringed planet's atmosphere.

Launched in 1997, the 3.26 billion USA dollar Cassini-Huygens mission has been touring the Saturn system since arriving there in 2004.

NASA and its worldwide partners decided the best option was to deliberately send the spacecraft hurtling into the planet, rather than risking a collision with one of Saturn's moons.

Cassini-Huygens travelled to Saturn via a circuitous route, using the gravity assist technique to receive boosts in speed from the Earth, Venus, and Jupiter, and taking in an asteroid, Masursky, along the way.

NASA's science mission director, Thomas Zurbuchen, made note of all the tissues inside JPL's Mission Control, along with the customary lucky peanuts. The spacecraft was also slated to send images of hexagon-shaped jet stream around planet's north pole.

Ground control sent the spacecraft into the atmosphere of Saturn at about 12.55PM on Friday, September 15, completing a 20-year long mission. Launched in 1997, Cassini traveled seven years through and across 2.2 billion miles of space to reach Saturn.

Spacecraft Operations Manager Julie Webster announced the loss of signal within a minute of the predicted demise.

Watch below, starting at 7 a.m. EDT (4 a.m. PDT), for a behind the scenes look as the scientists and engineers of the mission await Cassini's final transmission.

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

Following its death, Nasa tweeted: "Every time we see Saturn in the night sky, we'll remember".

Cassini was estimated to last about a minute and a half in Saturn's atmosphere before high temperatures ripped apart and melted its components.

Including Titan, Cassini explored a total of 19 Saturnian moons in detail. The hitchhiking European Huygens landed on big moon Titan in 2005. According to a report by NASA, the spacecraft is ending its journey to ensure Saturn's moons, especially Enceladus, remains in pristine state for future exploration.

"We want to go back to Titan, we want to go back to Enceladus; there's so much we don't know about the interior of Saturn, so people have talked about Saturn probe missions".

During its mission, Cassini made numerous scientific discoveries and significantly changed the way we think about our solar system.

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