Friday, 22 September, 2017

A 'goodbye kiss' to Cassini

One last look at Titan on Cassni’s final journey.     NASA  JPL-Caltech One last look at Titan on Cassni’s final journey. NASA JPL-Caltech
Jeanne Townsend | 15 September, 2017, 00:26

The gas was a sign of hydrothermal activity favorable to life, scientists said in April when they unveiled the finding.

"That will enable sampling instruments, particularly the ion and neutral mass spectrometer, to get data as deep into the atmosphere as Cassini will permit it", he said. The small craft skimmed the outer edges of the planet's atmosphere and the inner edges of the rings, sending back incredible photographs. The huge outer "E" ring forms from the icy plumes that spray from the unexpectedly active Enceladus.

On Friday, at 8.31pm, the spacecraft will enter Saturn's atmosphere, where turbulence will tear it apart.

The Cassini spacecraft is due to be killed off and will break up and crash into Saturn's atmosphere. "But Cassini will not go quietly".

Cassini's team is reconfiguring the spacecraft to send back scientific data in "near real time".

"Cassini's had a long-distance, you might say, long-term relationship with Titan", Earl Maize, Cassini's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said during the teleconference.

The fourth space probe to visit the solar system's second-largest planet (preceded by Voyager 1, Voyager 2 and Pioneer 11), Cassini is the first to orbit the gaseous giant.

Its final mission was a gravity assist around Saturn's largest moon, Titan, to set it on a collision course with Saturn's main body. The resulting information has contributed to almost 4,000 published scientific papers and some 5,000 people have worked on the mission over the years, according to NASA. If it's possible that moons like Titan and Enceladus might now, or could one day, harbor life, then humanity has a responsibility to leave such landscapes uncontaminated. In order to protect potentially habitable moons orbiting Saturn from being contaminated with terrestrial microbes, NASA has ordered Cassini to destroy itself.

For more than a decade, NASA's Cassini spacecraft at Saturn took "a magnifying glass" to the enchanting planet, its moons and rings.

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Though the spacecraft has skimmed the surface of Titan's thick atmosphere and made a few dips into Saturn's atmosphere on its last five orbits, Cassini's thrusters weren't made for the heavy drag it will encounter on the planet, Maize said.

Once Cassini came back online, Staab said, the data could stream alongside the real-time observations, though the process would consume more bandwidth.

Friday's final dive will see the probe travel closer to the surface of Saturn than ever before. Cassini has also accomplished its mission many times over, since it arrived at Saturn in 2004.

Evidence for subsurface oceans of water were discovered by Cassini inside both Enceladus and Titan, making them prime targets for future NASA missions. During its long mission, Cassini has been able to provide some mind blowing and unknown details about Saturn, its rings and its 60 odd moons.

In the end, Cassini will have witnessed half of a Saturn year.

A few years ago, NASA chose to send a flagship mission to the Saturn to get detailed information about the mysterious ring planet. In recent weeks, Cassini has beamed back information on Saturn's enigmatic rings that could answer fundamental questions about their make-up.

NASA launched Cassini toward Saturn in 1997.

Among Cassini's most important discoveries were six small moons and hundreds of moonlets within Saturn's rings.

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