Jour­ney ends for Cassini in fire­ball dive into Saturn

Daily Mail - - News - By Vic­to­ria Allen Science Cor­re­spon­dent

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

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