February 23, 2018

Cassini Completes 20-Year Mission With Plunge Into Saturn

16 September 2017, 12:10 | Darnell Patrick

The space agency has begun releasing the raw unprocessed images as Cassini prepares for its ‘death dive

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

On its last journey after its launch 20 years ago, NASA's Cassini mission began transmitting data before its final plunge into Saturn on Friday.

After 20 years in space, NASA's famed Cassini spacecraft made its final death plunge into Saturn on Friday, ending a storied mission that scientists say taught us almost everything we know about Saturn today and transformed the way we think about life elsewhere in the solar system.

Cassini is expected to send back new details about the planet and its moons right up until its blazing finale later on Friday. Back in April, the spacecraft started a series of orbits that had the goal of looking in between and behind Saturn's rings.

After 20 years, a NASA spacecraft's mission to Saturn is over.

Cassini took its last photo - a shot of the patch of atmosphere where it will meet its doom - at 12:58 p.m. PDT (3:58 p.m. EDT; 1958 GMT) Thursday (Sept. 14).

The spacecraft's dive to the planet is the final step of the mission, which was to take pictures and collect key information about its environment.

Flight controllers at California's Jet Propulsion Laboratory got one last burst of scientific data from Cassini, before the radio waves went flat - and the spacecraft fell silent.

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Cassini, an global project that cost $3.9 billion and included scientists from 27 nations, disintegrated as it dove into Saturn's atmosphere at a speed of 75,000 miles (120,700 kilometers) per hour.

In recent months, following several mission extensions and by now running out of fuel, Cassini has been directed to end its life in a deliberate collision with Saturn, to avoid contamination of its moons. "Every time we see Saturn in the night sky, we'll remember".

It also delivered the European Space Agency lander, Huygens, which created history when it became the first object ever landed on an outer solar system world after touching down on Titan, one of Saturn's moons. Scientists feared the craft would collide with Titan or Enceladus, two of Saturn's moons, that have in the past 10 years shown a potential to host life.

This is the last image taken by the cameras aboard NASA's awe-inspiring Cassini.

The images collected through the Cassini mission are split into the in five parts. Three other spacecraft previously flew past Saturn, but Cassini was the only one to actually circle the planet. Cassini has provided a total of 453,000 images of Saturn along with its rings and moons.

NASA planned Cassini's destruction in advance and used a gravity assist from Saturn's moon Titan on Monday to send the spacecraft barreling into the gas giant's atmosphere.

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