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Cassini's finale: NASA's last photos from their 20-year Saturn mission

Cassini's finale: NASA's last photos from their 20-year Saturn mission”

"This has been an incredible mission, an incredible spacecraft, and you're all an incredible team".

Cassini's final image of Saturn.

Telemetry received during the plunge indicates that, as expected, Cassini entered Saturn's atmosphere with its thrusters firing to maintain stability, as it sent back a unique final set of science observations. Ever since, the human probe reported important data to NASA, including the structure of Saturn's rings, and the discovery of two moons, Titan and Enceladus, as potential targets in the search for life beyond our planet. After traveling for almost seven years, the spacecraft entered orbit around Saturn on July 1, 2004. This idea was introduced in the early 1980s, but Cassini has already shown that it's more complicated than previously thought.

After all this mission, there's a single conclusion we can draw: we have to come back.

It's precisely because of its successes that Cassini had to die. Enceladus plows along the orbit of the E Ring, Saturn's second-from-outermost ring, which reaches extremely far out into space, brushing up against the orbit of Titan. In April, Cassini began 22 close-in orbits that took it between and behind Saturn's rings.

"And in the same way, Cassini is taking a last look around the Saturn system, Cassini's home for the last 13 years", she said.

A Goodbye Kiss to Titan. Just after 3:30 a.m. California time on Friday, Cassini entered Saturn's atmosphere, plummeting at a pace of about 77,000 miles per hour. Via Cassini, the probe sent back data, including the first images of the moon's surface, for 72 minutes after touchdown, and radio telescopes on Earth detected transmissions for some hours later.

Minutes later Cassini vaporized, just a small flash of light streaking across an alien sky.

Scientists have been busy getting final data from Cassini and NASA has released some of the final images taken by the orbiter.

"The spacecraft will be transmitting data until the very end, and we'll be there when it stops". The spike shrank, then flickered, then flatlined.

Julie Webster, spacecraft operations manager for Cassini, said she's been blasting the Moody Blues' "Your Wildest Dreams" in her vehicle the last few days.

The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini (e-Book)

There was utter silence at mission control.

Saturn's moon Mimas - sometimes called the "Death Star" for its resemblance to the iconic "Star Wars" weapon - might have a core that's oblong like a football. "Project manager, off the net". "It did exactly what it was supposed to do". Project scientist Linda Spilker also had a purple handkerchief to wipe away tears.

"Even better", Webster agreed.

A round of applause erupted in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's von Kármán Auditorium as team members and the media heard the final call. The spacecraft probably fell another 1,000 kilometers as it disintegrated like a meteor, Maize said.

The last image captured by Cassini.

But none have studied Saturn in such detail as Cassini, named after the French-Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, who discovered in the 17th century that Saturn had several moons and a gap in between its rings.

Friday's "grand finale" was planned out well in advance by NASA. "It's not science in the ivory tower". Machines and robots are many things, but they're not alive. "And way that she died". "It's been an incredible mission, incredible spacecraft, and you are an incredible team". Instead, a viewing party was arranged on the campus of nearby Caltech.

In its 20-year mission, Cassini certainly meets the bill. The glow of the screens and the soundtrack's dramatic drumbeat made the proceedings even more intense.

"It has been a tremendous mission to be a part of", said Hsu, according to The Washington Post. They're not so much about science as exploration.

"Two of those moons have been of particular interest", NPR's Joe Palca reports from JPL headquarters in Pasadena, Calif. Others have proposed similar missions to test for "biosignatures" in Titan's atmosphere. However, it didn't actually make it to the planet until 2004. Many in the crowd, engineers and scientists, had worked for twenty years on the Cassini mission. "Cassini is there too". "So when I look up at Saturn in the future, I'll know ..."

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