‘Cassini’ space­craft ends its 13-year odyssey with fiery plunge into Saturn

Jerusalem Post - - INTERNATIONAL NEWS - R #Z *"/ 4*.140/

The US space agency NASA re­ceived a fi­nal sig­nal from its Cassini space­craft on Fri­day as it ended a ground­break­ing, 13-year Saturn mis­sion with a me­teor-like plunge into the ringed planet’s at­mos­phere.

Cassini, the first space­craft to or­bit Saturn, en­tered the gaseous gi­ant’s crush­ing at­mos­phere at 7:55 a.m. EDT at about 113,000 km. per hour, the Na­tional Aero­nau­tics and Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion said.

“This morn­ing a lone ex­plorer – a ma­chine made by hu­man-kind – fin­ished its mis­sion 900 mil­lion miles (1,450 mil­lion km.) away,” Cassini project man­ager Earl Maize said at a news con­fer­ence on Fri­day at NASA’s Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­tory in Pasadena, Cal­i­for­nia. “We be­lieve we got ev­ery last sec­ond of data.”

The end of Cassini’s voy­age, which be­gan with its launch in 1997 and a seven-year jour­ney to Saturn, was met with ap­plause, hugs and tears from NASA of­fi­cials af­ter its fi­nal trans­mis­sion was re­ceived, ac­cord­ing to video footage on the space agency’s web­site.

Of­fi­cials at the news con­fer­ence dis­played the last set of images Cassini cap­tured of Saturn as it crashed into the planet. The planet’s lakes and seas near its north pole were vis­i­ble, along with de­tailed views of gaps in its mas­sive rings.

Maize said Cassini’s data, sent un­til the fi­nal fiery mo­ment, was al­ready be­ing stud­ied by NASA an­a­lysts in Ari­zona.

The trans­mis­sions are ex­pected to in­clude un­prece­dented data from the at­mos­phere’s up­per fringe, about 1,915 km. above Saturn’s cloud tops. The data took 84 min­utes to reach NASA an­ten­nas in Can­berra, Aus­tralia, Maize said.

The fi­nal dive ended a mis­sion that gave sci­en­tists a ring­side seat to the sixth planet from the sun. The space­craft’s dis­cov­er­ies in­cluded sea­sonal changes on Saturn, a hexagon-shaped pat­tern on its north pole and the moon Ti­tan’s re­sem­blance to a pri­mor­dial Earth.

Cassini also found a global ocean on the moon Ence­ladus, with ice plumes spout­ing from its sur­face. Ence­ladus has be­come a promis­ing lead in the search for places out­side Earth that could sup­port life.

The space­craft has pro­duced 450,000 images and 635 gi­ga­bytes of data since it be­gan prob­ing Saturn and its 62 known moons in July 2004.

Cassini, a co­op­er­a­tive project be­tween NASA, the Euro­pean Space Agency and the Ital­ian Space Agency, was launched into space in Oc­to­ber 1997 from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

With the space­craft run­ning low on fuel, NASA crashed it into Saturn to avoid any chance of it some­day col­lid­ing with and con­tam­i­nat­ing Ti­tan, Ence­ladus or another moon that has the po­ten­tial for in­dige­nous mi­cro­bial life.

Cassini started a se­ries of 22 or­bital dives in April, us­ing Ti­tan’s grav­ity to sling­shot it­self into the un­ex­plored area be­tween the planet and its rings. The space­craft stud­ied Saturn’s at­mos­phere and took mea­sure­ments to de­ter­mine the size of the planet’s rocky core.

Sci­en­tists took to Twit­ter to share their good­byes.

“Farewell Cassini, how far you’ve come,” as­tro­physi­cist Neil deGrasse Tyson said on Twit­ter. “On this eve, in fiery death, Saturn & you are one. VIP (Va­por­ize In Peace): 2004-2017.” (Reuters)


‘CASSINI’ TEAM MEM­BERS em­brace on Fri­day af­ter the space­craft was de­lib­er­ately plunged into Saturn, at NASA’s Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­tory in Pasadena, Cal­i­for­nia.

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