Cassini ‘dies’ on Saturn

The Citizen (Gauteng) - - NEWS -

US space agency Nasa re­ceived the fi­nal sig­nal from its Cassini space­craft, which ended a ground­break­ing 13-year Saturn mis­sion yes­ter­day with a me­teor-like plunge into the planet’s at­mos­phere, trans­mit­ting data un­til the fi­nal mo­ment.

Cassini, the first space­craft to or­bit Saturn, ended its mis­sion around 7.54 am (11.54am GMT), shortly af­ter it lost con­tact with Earth as it en­tered the gas giant’s crush­ing at­mos­phere at about 113 000km/h, the Na­tional Aero­nau­tics and Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion (Nasa) said.

“Our space­craft has en­tered Saturn’s at­mos­phere, and we have re­ceived its fi­nal trans­mis­sion,” Nasa said on Twit­ter, via its of­fi­cial @CassiniSaturn pro­file.

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

Cassini’s fi­nal trans­mis­sions are ex­pected to in­clude data from the at­mos­phere’s up­per fringe about 1 915km above Saturn’s cloud tops. The data took 86 min­utes to reach Nasa an­ten­nas in Can­berra, Aus­tralia.

“Not only do we have an en­vi­ron­ment that just is over­whelm­ing with an abun­dance of sci­en­tific mys­ter­ies and puz­zles, but we’ve had a space­craft that’s been able to ex­ploit it,” Earl Maize, Cassini project man­ager at Nasa’s Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­tory in Pasadena, Cal­i­for­nia, said.

Cassini’s dive ended a mis­sion that gave sci­en­tists a ring­side seat to the sixth planet from the Sun. Dis­cov­er­ies in­cluded sea­sonal changes on Saturn, a hexagon-shaped pat­tern on the 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 where life could ex­ist out­side Earth. – Reuters

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