Space­craft’s death plunge into Saturn

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD - AFP

TAMPA: Af­ter 20 years in space, NASA’s famed Cassini space­craft made its fi­nal death plunge into Saturn late last night, end­ing a mis­sion that sci­en­tists say taught us nearly ev­ery­thing we know about Saturn and trans­formed the way we think about life in the so­lar sys­tem.

Cassini, an in­ter­na­tional project that cost $US3.9 bil­lion and in­cluded sci­en­tists from 27 na­tions, dis­in­te­grated as it dove into Saturn’s at­mos­phere at a speed of 120,700km/h.

“The sig­nal from the space­craft is gone,” said pro­gram man­ager Earl Maize of NASA’s Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­tory.

Cassini’s fi­nal con­tact with Earth came at 7.55am EDT (9.55pm Syd­ney time). Its fi­nal de­scent into Saturn’s at­mos­phere be­gan about 1½ hours ear­lier, but the sig­nal took that long to reach Earth.

Cassini’s plunge came af­ter its raft ran out of rocket fuel af­ter a jour­ney of about 7.9 bil­lion km.

Its well-planned demise was a way to pre­vent any dam­age to Saturn’s ocean-bear­ing moons Ti­tan and Ence­ladus, which sci­en­tists want to keep pris­tine for fu­ture ex­plo­ration.

In its time in space, it dis­cov­ered six more moons around Saturn, three-di­men­sional struc­tures tow­er­ing above Saturn’s rings, and a giant storm that rav­aged the planet for nearly a year.

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