Cassini ends its 20-year space odyssey in a blaze of glory
THE Cassini mission to Saturn came to a fiery end yesterday after 20 years. The spacecraft, which raised hopes of life in outer space, plummeted at 77,000mph into the planet’s atmosphere and burnt up in less than a minute.
Cassini, which transformed our knowledge of Saturn and discovered seven of its moons, went out in a ‘blaze of glory’ when Nasa crashed it into the planet.
The spacecraft had to be destroyed because, after seven years travelling to the outer solar system and 13 years in orbit around Saturn, it had run out of fuel and risked crashing into one of the planet’s moons. That could have contaminated their pristine surfaces with bugs from Earth.
Radio signal was lost at 12.55pm, as Cassini was torn apart over Saturn’s cloud tops.
Professor Andrew Coates, head of the planetary science group at University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory, said Cassini had ‘rewritten the textbooks’ on Saturn, adding: ‘The mission has changed the way we think of where life may have developed beyond our Earth.’
One of Cassini’s biggest discoveries was this year when it revealed some of the strongest evidence yet that alien life may exist. It found hydrogen on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which along with a liquid water ocean under its frozen surface, may provide life’s building blocks.