Cassini ends its 20-year space odyssey in a blaze of glory

Irish Daily Mail - - News - By Vic­to­ria Allen

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.

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