Fiery farewell to Saturn probe that sent back a treasure trove of detail
JOHN VON RADOWITZ
A Nasa artist’s impression of the Saturn probe Cassini burning up as
showed Titan to have a startlingly Earth-like landscape, with rivers, lakes and seas filled with liquid methane and ethane.
Scientists believe Titan’s “pre-biotic” environment could also support life, but not necessarily as we know it.
Cassini has also discovered seven new moons, six of which have been named, observed raging storms on Saturn, and shed new light on the planet’s famous rings.
The spacecraft’s fate was sealed on September 11 when it was sent on a final fly-by of distant Titan, 760,000 miles from Saturn.
Titan’s gravity nudged it onto a course back to Saturn from which there would be no return. Scientists nicknamed it the “goodbye kiss”. Right up until it radio
it enters Saturn’s atmosphere after a successful 20-year mission.
contact was lost Cassini was sending back data to Earth in near-real time.
The last images of looming Saturn were captured by the probe several hours earlier as it headed towards the planet.
For a brief time Cassini’s instruments sampled gases and molecules from Saturn’s atmosphere, transmitting data that could not be obtained by remote sensing alone.
Buffeted by strong winds, the probe fired its attitude thrusters to maintain stability. Cassini struggled on for about a minute but when its dish antenna failed to lock onto Earth, radio contact was lost.
Because of the length of time it takes radio waves to cross the gulf between Saturn and Earth, mission controllers only confirmed signal loss 83 minutes later.
Tears at the end of the Cassini mission in the control room.