Cassini ‘dies’ on Saturn
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