Published: Sat, September 16, 2017
Worldwide | By Sean Reid

Cassini ends 20-year journey

Cassini ends 20-year journey

NASA's Cassini spacecraft will complete its remarkable story of exploration with an intentional plunge into Saturn's atmosphere on Friday, ending its mission after almost 20 years in space.

American Space Research Agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said that the final plunge will take place on the day side of Saturn, near local noon, with the spacecraft entering the atmosphere around 10 degrees north latitude.

At around 7:31 AM eastern time, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft disintegrated and plunged into Saturn, becoming the only man-made object ever to touch our solar system's second largest planet.

"This is the final chapter of an incredible mission, but it's also a new beginning", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, in a statement sent to CNBC.

In fact, no other spacecraft in history has lingered so close to the ringed planet.

Linda Spilker, a Scientist on the Cassini Project told the press members on September 13, Wednesday at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA, that, "We've had an incredible 13-year mission". The last signal expected at around 4.55 am from the Cassini spacecraft.

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Cassini had been investigating Saturn and its moons since 2004 as part of a $A4.2 billion project which has unearthed a treasure trove of discoveries.

The Grand Finale, as NASA calls it, came about as Cassini's fuel tank started getting low after 13 years exploring the planet.

On Thursday, Cassini snapped its "last memento photos" of the Saturn system. Simply because there is no "follow spacecraft" there, to send back true images of Cassini as it makes its plunge.

Cassini, one of Nasa's most important spacecrafts, has crashed into Saturn and been destroyed. But it was impossible to resist the lure of the data they could get from Cassini's Grand Finale - the series of dives between Saturn and its rings.

Cassini also discovered seven new moons, six of which have been named, observed raging storms on Saturn, and revealed more details of the planet's famous rings. "We'll smile. And we'll want to go back", the Cassini mission's official Twitter handle post. Some of the highlights include finding vertical structures on Saturn's rings, landing the Huygens probe on Titan, photographing Titan's surprisingly Earth-like frozen landscape, finding saline flats that show Titan could support life and finding water on the tiny moon Enceladus (for more, see our summary here).

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