Named after the 17 century Italian astronomer Giovanni Cassini - who discoverer four of the planet's moons and a gap in its rings - the Cassini mission has completely transformed our understanding of Saturn and identified two moons that could potentially harbor life.
The end of the mission is created to protect Saturn's moons Titan and Enceladus, which have the potential to support life. It unveiled moonlets embedded in the rings.
It will begin at with a five-minute roll that will point its Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer toward the direction of flight, allowing the instrument to gather as much data as possible about the chemical makeup of Saturn's atmosphere in its final seconds.
"The spacecraft's final signal will be like an echo", says Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
The space between the rings and the planet also is home to another mystery: extremely small, nearly smoke-like, particles of dust.
Via an worldwide collaboration, Cassini brought Europe's Huygens lander to the Saturn system and dropped it down on Titan, giving Earthlings a stunning view of the moon's liquid oceans and complex organic atmosphere. Cassini made a close flyby of Saturn's moon Titan on Monday, a pass that slightly shifted the spacecraft's trajectory and sent it on a path leading into Saturn's atmosphere. Cassini also found that the moon Hyperion has a statically charged surface.
Roughly 14 hours later, the spacecraft will fly into the planet's atmosphere at 76,000 mph, lighting up like a meteor.
Cassini, the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn, will make the last of 22 farewell dives between the planet's rings and surface on September 15. They do not want any earthly organisms that may be on Cassini to contaminate a moon that may have life. Then, the temperatures will overcome the iridium-casing for its plutonium power supply, creating a flare just before the last evidence of Cassini is erased. Its separate, main fuel tank, however, was getting low when NASA put the spacecraft on the no-turning-back Grand Finale. Hence, on 1997 NASA launched its robotic spacecraft, Cassini for an ambitious mission to Saturn. When Cassini arrived, the northern hemisphere of Saturn was emerging from winter.
Scientists are intentionally destroying the spacecraft so it doesn't crash into one of Saturn's moons. Scientists wanted one last look to see if Peggy had broken free of its ring.
Saturn is on average 890 million miles from Earth, and it takes around 83 minutes for radio waves to cross that distance at the speed of light. Or perhaps multiple such collisions occurred. The resulting information has contributed to almost 4,000 published scientific papers and some 5,000 people have worked on the mission over the years, according to NASA. We have new books coming out about Saturn, the rings, the magnetosphere, so many new things Cassini has discovered.
Her first stop would be Saturn's tiny moon Enceladus, where she would take samples of its ocean, which harbors numerous conditions needed to sustain life. Incredibly, geysers of water vapor and ice shoot out of cracks in Enceladus' south pole. Researchers think they may have gotten that way by being ground up, but are not sure what process might have made that happen, project scientist Linda Spilker said in an interview with CNBC. Such contamination could harm or create potential life.
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