Tears as space­craft’s 20-year trip ends in 77,000mph ‘sui­cide’

Daily Express - - NEWS -

pass Jupiter. Since 2004 it has been ex­plor­ing Saturn, the huge ringed planet which is sixth from the Sun.

Cassini was prov­ing so valu­able that its life was ex­tended by 10 years, al­low­ing it to dis­cover seven new moons around Saturn.

Most dra­mat­i­cally it re­vealed that Ti­tan and an­other moon Ence­ladus, may be able to host very sim­ple forms of life.

It dis­cov­ered that Ti­tan and Ence­ladus have liq­uid wa­ter oceans be­neath their icy crusts which could har­bour con­di­tions for mi­crobes. It also found dust around Saturn which came from be­yond our so­lar sys­tem. But Nasa de­cided to bring Cassini’s ad­ven­ture to a close in a fire­ball be­cause it was run­ning low on fuel and would soon be­come im­pos­si­ble to steer. They feared it could col­lide with Ti­tan or Ence­ladus and con­tam­i­nate them with bac­te­ria from Earth. On Monday Cassini had a last fly-past of Ti­tan, 760,000 miles from Saturn, whose grav­ity nudged it back to­wards its date with destiny in Saturn’s at­mo­sphere – a push nick­named the “good­bye kiss”.

Then it plunged to its doom, re­lay­ing ground-break­ing data about Saturn’s up­per at­mo­sphere right to the last sec­ond. Among the Bri­tish sci­en­tists who have worked on the pro­gramme was Royal As­tro­nom­i­cal So­ci­ety pres­i­dent Pro­fes­sor John Zar­necki, who said: “Of course I feel slightly sad.

“But it’s given me the most won­der­ful ride and it de­liv­ered my in­stru­ment to the sur­face of Ti­tan where it’s still sit­ting.”

An­other mis­sion sci­en­tist, Pro­fes­sor An­drew Coates, head of the plan­e­tary sci­ence group at Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don’s Mullard Space Sci­ence Lab­o­ra­tory, called Cassini “one of hu­mankind’s great voyages of dis­cov­ery”.

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