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Cassini Grand Finale: Orbiter Goes Out in a Blaze on Friday

Image: Cassini Grand Finale: Orbiter Goes Out in a Blaze on Friday
(Screengrab of Twitter post@CassiniOrbiter)

By    |   Friday, 15 September 2017 06:01 AM

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has its grand finale on Friday as the orbiter goes out in a blaze while sinking into Saturn's atmosphere.

Cassini has spent the past 13 years exploring Saturn, its dramatic rings and its icy moons. With its fuel depleting, the spaceship will plunge into the gassy planet's Friday morning where it is expected to burn up and completely disintegrated, CNN reported on Thursday.

"The spacecraft's final signal will be like an echo," Earl Maize, Cassini project manager, told CNN. "It will radiate across the solar system for nearly an hour and a half after Cassini itself has gone."

The gravity on Saturn's moon Titan gave Cassini its final push toward its crash landing into Saturn on Monday as the spaceship made its closest approach to the moon, CNN said.

Even though Cassini has been in space for 20 years – including the seven-year trip to Saturn – microbes from Earth could still be viable without air, water or protection from radiation. Because of that, engineers decided to let the spaceship burn up in the planet's atmosphere rather than crashing into one of the moons, possibly contaminating it.

The spaceship has sent back to Earth 635 gigabytes of information, mostly comprised of the most dramatic and detailed images of the ringed planet ever taken, all coming from technology from the 1990s, Scientific American noted.

"We've had exceptional performance, and we couldn't have asked for much more," said Earl Maize, Cassini's project manager at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, per Scientific American. "It has just been a phenomenal ride."

As it takes its final dive into Saturn's cloud, Cassini will operate eight instruments that will allow it to keep its high-gain antenna pointed toward Earth as long as possible, transmitting as much information as it can about the atmosphere's composition until it evaporates.

"We are concluding the longest, deepest, most comprehensive scientific exploration of a remote planetary system ever undertaken, a system so alien it might as well have been orbiting another star in another galaxy," Carolyn Porco, the planetary scientist who leads Cassini's imaging team, told Scientific American. "And we have been profoundly successful."

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NASA's Cassini spacecraft has its grand finale on Friday as the orbiter goes out in a blaze while sinking into Saturn's atmosphere.
cassini, grand finale, friday
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2017-01-15
Friday, 15 September 2017 06:01 AM
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