Cassini Is Diving Through Saturn's Rings for Its 'Grand Finale' Mission

Adjust Comment Print

Cassini's unprecedented views of Saturn and its 62 moons are widely regarded as some of the most sublime images from space - it's shown us methane lakes on Titan, the gaps in Saturnian rings and even pasta moons that seem too delicious to be real.

The NASA Cassini spacecraft is running low on fuel as it has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004.

On its final orbit on September 15, Cassini will make a suicidal plunge into Saturn's atmosphere, beaming a stream of unique data back to Earth before burning up.

As per NASA, the part of Earth facing Cassini at the time was the southern Atlantic Ocean.

The ship has been studying Saturn for the last 12 years, giving experts an unprecedented view of Saturn and its 62 moons since its arrival. "But I'm also quite optimistic that we're going to discover some new and really exciting science as we probe the region we've never probed before".

After decades in space and a journey of more than 4.1 billion miles, NASA's Cassini orbiter is set for its grand finale.

Unilateral US action in North Korea 'highly risky': Lavrov
The deployment of the anti-missile system Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) by the United States in South Korea is progressing fast.

There's no turning back once Cassini flies past Titan, Maize said.

She will discuss Cassini's history of discoveries and the mysteries that could yet be revealed, such as what really lies beneath the cloud tops and how long is a day on Saturn. She added that, while NASA does not now have the instruments to test for life at such a great distance, the discovery of hydrogen venting from Enceladus is a capstone finding that confirms the moon possesses "all the essential features necessary for life".

The new faraway Earth image is something of a goodbye for Cassini as well.

The other major outstanding question is the age of Saturn's rings. The Encke gap - also within Saturn's A ring - is visible in the upper right of the photo. The crash was planned by NASA in order to avoid contaminating Saturn's moons, locations that are believed to be harboring alien life.

NASA and its spectacular space hardware often spend so much time checking out our planetary neighbors that we forget Earth offers some pretty cool photo ops as well. That information will help scientists learn how the rings formed.

If the models are wrong and Cassini is clobbered by BB-size material, it still will end up exactly where NASA is aiming for on September 15 - at Saturn.

Comments