Postcards from the edge: Cassini's final images before smashing into Saturn

Postcards from the edge: Cassini's final images before smashing into Saturn

Members of the Cassini team, some of whom worked on the program for three decades, from design through the end of the mission today, expressed a range of emotions over the past three days of events at JPL heralding the end of the mission. Cassini's final signal took 83 minutes to reach planet Earth and the Deep Space Network antenna complex in Canberra Australia where loss of contact with the spacecraft was recorded at 11:55 UT.

At a news conference afterward, Maize paid tribute to Cassini. ESA built the Huygens probe that separated from Cassini and flew down through the haze that surrounds Saturn's intriguing moon Titan, providing awesome images and data about the atmosphere and surface.

"Cassini may be gone, but its scientific bounty will keep us occupied for many years", Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA, said in the statement.

The other moon of Saturn that has scientists interested is Enceladus.

The grand finale of Cassini, as NASA called it, was inevitable as there was no way to refuel the spacecraft's fuel tank, which had enabled its 13 years of exploration.

One of Cassini's most important discoveries was the existence of a global watery ocean under the icy surface of Enceladus that could conceivably host life. After a long 20 years in space including fearless dives between Saturn and its rings in the past five months, finally, on Friday, Cassini went through a controlled plunge into Saturn.

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As Cassini plunged into Saturn, its sensors experienced the first taste of the planet's atmosphere, sending critical information to Earth until it disintegrated.

With its dense atmosphere and huge liquid reservoirs, Titan is more like a terrestrial planet, and is one of the largest moons of our solar system.

"This mission is special, and it's making it more hard to say goodbye because it's lasted so long", said Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science Director Jonathan Lunine. "I hope you're all as deeply proud fo this fantastic accomplishment". "I feel like I've lost a friend". My students and myself have at least five papers done with the Cassini data, to be submitted later this year. We check on the health and safety. "That'll be missed. It'll be a big change for many of us".

At roughly 4:45 Pacific Daylight Time this morning, Cassini vanished into Saturn's multicolored clouds. The spacecraft ran out of fuel and NASA did not want to risk it crashing into one of Saturn's moons. "We're going in at what, 60, 70, 80,000 miles an hour".

It's unlikely there's life on Saturn itself, but Ray says even if there is, there's no chance any microbes would survive Cassini's death dive.

Although Cassini has ended its journey, the enormous collection of data that it had collected about Saturn and its moons is expected to continue to help astronomers yield new discoveries in the future.

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