Science mile­stone

The Republican Herald - - OPINION -

The Cassini-huy­gens probe made its planned dive into the dense at­mos­phere of Saturn on Fri­day morn­ing, ad­vanc­ing plan­e­tary science un­til the end of a mis­sion that was spec­tac­u­lar from start to fin­ish.

Cassini truly was an project of hu­mankind. It in­cluded the work of sci­en­tists and engi­neers from 27 coun­tries and its dis­cov­er­ies about Saturn and the so­lar sys­tem re­sulted in nearly 4,000 schol­arly pa­pers around the world.

The probe, launched in 1997, dis­cov­ered six pre­vi­ously un­known moons of Saturn, defini­tively de­tailed the struc­ture of the gi­ant planet’s rings, landed a probe on the moon Ti­tan, and recorded more than 450,000 sep­a­rate images of Saturn and its moons dur­ing an ex­traor­di­nar­ily com­plex bal­let of 294 or­bits across 4.9 bil­lion miles.

Cassini is a ma­chine but its planned de­struc­tion at Saturn is a melan­choly event sim­ply be­cause of the grandeur of its work, and the jus­ti­fi­able pride of the peo­ple re­spon­si­ble for it.

The project’s ob­vi­ous legacy is the 635 gi­ga­bytes of data that it pro­duced. But it also should inspire an even greater legacy — a re­newed com­mit­ment by the United States to main­tain its com­mit­ment to science.

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