The Cassini mission meets explosive end
After nearly two decades, Nasa’s Cassini mission was on course for an explosive end on 15 September, as the spacecraft was expected to burn up in Saturn’s atmosphere (an envelope of gases that protects a planet).
On 15 October 1997 the Cassini spacecraft blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, US, to embark on a sevenyear journey to the second-largest planet in our solar system, Saturn. During this journey, Cassini passed Venus twice, gathering important data, and flew by Earth, the Moon and even Jupiter, before arriving at Saturn in 2004. Cassini’s main mission was to get a close look at the ringed planet and its many moons. The mission was such a success it was extended twice.
Among the mission’s many discoveries, Cassini took the closest ever picture of Saturn’s rings; it found new moons orbiting the planet and it discovered lakes of methane on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. One of Cassini’s more remarkable achievements was the discovery of a vast underground ocean below the surface of Saturn’s moon, Enceladus. Scientists believe that this liquid ocean could harbour simple forms of life, and a mission has been planned to explore the moon further.
In April 2017, Nasa announced that the Cassini spacecraft was running out of fuel and outlined a proposal for its “Grand Finale”. After orbiting the planet another 22 times collecting information, Cassini took a nosedive into Saturn at 70,000mph. Its final mission was to record data about Saturn’s atmosphere before eventually burning up. Earl Maize, the mission’s project manager, said, “It will break apart, it will melt, it will vaporise, and it will become part of the very planet it left Earth to explore.”
The research gained from the Cassini mission to Saturn will keep scientists busy for years to come.
It took Cassini seven years to reach Saturn after leaving Earth.