Cassini, NASA’s spacecraft designed to obtain in-depth knowledge of Saturn and its surrounding bodies plunged into a choreographed death dive into the planet’s atmosphere yesterday on 15th September 2017. One month more and Cassini would have celebrated its 20 years long journey of exploring space and Saturn for potential existence of life.
The spacecraft faced a swift and deliberate death whilst traveling at a staggering speed of 76,000 mph. It hurled itself into the planet’s atmosphere at around 6:30 CDT and the communication with Earth was severed one minute later which went just as NASA had choreographed the death leap. Within the next three minutes, 12 scientific instruments from Cassini had torn apart and melted, eventually vaporizing.
Throughout its final descent, Cassini transmitted scientific data about Saturn’s atmosphere and the planet’s interior structure which is yet to be studied by the researchers.
According to Earl Maize, Program manager for the mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California, Cassini left the world informed yet still wondering and we couldn’t have asked for more.
The initial mission of Cassini spacecraft was meant to last 4 years but the spacecraft was so robust and the information it collected was so startling that NASA extended the mission twice. During its 13 years long stay around Saturn, Cassini observed the birth of mini-moonlets in the rings of Saturn and spotted gigantic hurricanes on the planet’s poles. The spacecraft also added 6 new confirmed moons to Saturn’s natural satellites and a number of faint rings were also found during its stay.
The most brilliant discovery by Cassini was the presence of hydrocarbon lakes and seas on the largest moon of Saturn, Titan. It is the only body besides Earth in our solar system to have standing liquid on its surface.
Thanks to Cassini, scientists now believe that Titan and Enceladus are the perfect candidates for hosting extraterrestrial life in our solar system. As of now Cassini had logged a total of 4.9 billion miles, captured 453,048 images which resulted in the publication of 3,948 research papers.
According to NASA engineers, Cassini’s instruments were still functional at the time of its death but the problem was with its exhausted fuel. The death plunge of Cassini was choreographed to ensure that it doesn’t ever crash into Titan or Enceladus and pollute the only possible place with the hope of habitation.