The Cassini mis­sion meets ex­plo­sive end

The Week - Junior - - Science And Technology -

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.

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