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The final approach of the $4 billion spacecraft towards Saturn's Atmosphere

The final approach of the $4 billion spacecraft towards Saturn's Atmosphere”

Nasa referred to this manoeuvre as a "goodbye kiss", as it will melt into Saturn's atmosphere on 15 September.

Launched in 1997 and equipped with a dozen scientific instruments, the 2.5-tonne probe entered Saturn's orbit in 2004, landing on Titan in December of that year. After nearly 20 years in space, 13 of which at Saturn, Cassini will not even leave a mark in the planet's clouds - it will simply go silent and fade away.

The Cassini-Huygens mission has witnessed countless breath-taking phenomena. Those cameras, over the years of photographing Saturn, its rings and moons, created some of the most visually handsome images of the solar system.

Surface observations on Titan are planned at LPL, and then sent to the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations, or CICLOPS, at the University of Colorado, Boulder, which Porco heads as director. The cost of the mission stands at GBP2.9 billion ($A4.8 billion). Of Cassini's 162 targeted flybys of Saturn's 53 named and nine unnamed moons, 127 were of Titan.

On the way it made fly-bys of Venus, the Earth and Jupiter to receive gravitational "kicks" that boosted its speed to more than 42,500mph.

When Cassini arrived, it witnessed a giant storm circling the planet for nine months.

What was in Cassini's instrument package?

Cassini is expected to lose contact with Earth just before 10pm AEST tomorrow.

In addition, Cassini carried a smaller European Space Agency probe, Huygens, created to land on Titan. Cassini also found that the moon Hyperion has a statically charged surface.

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As it parachuted down through the moon's atmosphere, Huygens captured images of surprisingly Earth-like features such as shorelines and river systems. Scientists now know Titan has rivers, lakes and seas filled with liquid methane and ethane. However, eight of Cassini's 12 science experiments will continue to run until the last second, gathering never before seen data about Saturn's atmosphere.

"I think because it has been in the Saturn system for 13 years and it has just made discoveries and the ability for us to communicate those discoveries has exploded around it, that is now enabling us to draw attention and recognize that we really could have done a better job explaining how it got to where it is", said Green.

The 300-year-old mystery of how the moon Iapetus acquired its unusual two-tone appearance was also solved.

And really, Cassini has totally reshaped scientists' theories around oceans in general. The "Wave at Saturn" campaign was the first to provide earthlings with advance notice that their picture was being taken from an interplanetary distance.

In addition the probe's computer "brain" automatically kept it safe and stable and responded to problems requiring immediate action.

Another challenge was communicating with and controlling an unmanned robot so far out in the outer solar system.

Why did scientists decide to kill off Cassini? "When you put a capable suite of instruments on a spacecraft, it gives you the opportunity to make discoveries in unexpected aways".

Intrigued by Cassini's discoveries, scientists have submitted concepts for future "spacecraft to drift on the methane seas of Titan and fly through the Enceladus plume to collect and analyze samples for signs of biology" that are now under consideration, according to NASA.



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