Spacecraft’s death plunge into Saturn
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.