Journey ends for Cassini in fireball dive into Saturn
THE Cassini mission to Saturn ended in a blaze of glory yesterday.
After 13 years in orbit, the spacecraft plummeted into the planet’s atmosphere at 77,000mph and burnt up in less than a minute.
Scientists at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, hugged each other, pictured, as one of the space agency’s most successful missions came to an end.
Cassini, roughly the size of a delivery van, transformed knowledge of conditions on Saturn and discovered seven of its moons, sending back huge amounts of data to Earth.
One of its biggest discoveries came earlier this year when it revealed strong evidence for the possibility of alien life. It found hydrogen on Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, which, along with an ocean under its surface, may provide the main building blocks for life.
The unmanned craft had to be destroyed because it had run out of fuel and risked crashing into Enceladus or one of Saturn’s other moons, Titan, potentially contaminating their pristine surfaces with bugs from Earth.
Radio contact was lost at 12.55pm yesterday as Cassini was torn apart over Saturn’s cloud tops.
Earl Maize, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: ‘What a way to go – truly a blaze of glory.’
In its last suicide mission, Cassini was sent on a final fly-by of Titan, whose gravity nudged it back towards Saturn in what Nasa termed a ‘goodbye kiss’.
13-year mission: Cassini probe