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After Cassini what is next for Saturn?

17 September 2017, 01:11 | Ross Houston

After Cassini what is next for Saturn?

After Cassini what is next for Saturn?

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the United States' space agency, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency, whose joint mission the spacecraft had set out for 20 years ago, made a decision to let Cassini self-destruct by plunging into Saturn after it began running out of fuel.

Saturn's Rings are one of its most unique structures and distinguishes it from any other planet in the Milky Way.

For the spacecraft, Saturn was bright and the Sun was overhead as it plowed into the gas giant planet's swirling cloud tops at about 70,000 miles (113,000 kilometers) per hour.

Launched in 1997, Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004.

As planned, data from eight of Cassini's science instruments were beamed back to Earth, according to NASA.

"The mission has been insanely, wildly, beautifully successful, and it's coming to an end", said Curt Niebur, a program scientist for NASA. The images were obtained using Cassini's wide-angle camera at a distance of approximately 1.9 million miles (3 million km) from Saturn and at an elevation of about 30 degrees above the ring plane.

During the summer of 2017, the Cassini team used Keck Observatory to take near-infrared spectroscopic data of the regions near Saturn's equator, just as Cassini was diving between Saturn and its rings during its final orbits. The nearest observer wouldn't even know until 84 minutes later that Cassini was gone.

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Cassini has been exploring Saturn and some of its moons, making discoveries along the way. It's hard to imagine a mission working more perfectly than this one, which is probably a big reason it's so hard to say goodbye. The spacecraft was at a distance of 774,000 kilometres from Titan when it captured the image. "I believe this will continue for the following decades because the Cassini-based science will never die", Cui told Xinhua.

In a recently completed study, a variety of potential mission concepts are discussed, delivered to NASA in preparation for the next Decadal Survey, including orbiters, flybys and probes that would dive into Uranus' atmosphere to study its composition.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA designed, built and operated Cassini in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). How are you handling the idea that we won't be getting any more images from Saturn for years to come?

At least three different types of missions are being proposed for the moon Titan, the world with liquid methane seas, shrouded in a thick nitrogen atmosphere.

"This is the final chapter of an unbelievable mission, but it's also a new beginning", Zurbuchen said.

The data that resulted in the discovery of the dust-free gap between Saturn and its rings is just one of the many tidbits of information that Cassini has sent back to astronomers here on Earth.



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