After 20 years, NASA sends Cassini spacecraft into Saturn to be destroyed

After 20 years, NASA sends Cassini spacecraft into Saturn to be destroyed

After 20 years, NASA sends Cassini spacecraft into Saturn to be destroyed

Cassini was put on a course to plunge through Saturn's atmosphere and vaporise like a meteor at the end of its 20-year journey exploring the planet.

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.

"There are worldwide treaties that require that we can't just leave a derelict spacecraft in orbit around a planet like Saturn, which has prebiotic moons", said Maize.

On its final orbit, Cassini will plunge into Saturn's atmosphere at tens of thousands of miles per hour, sending back new and unique science to the very end.

The doomed spacecraft also took close-up pictures of Saturn's rings, including one where it peeks back at its starting point: Earth.

NASA's science mission director, Thomas Zurbuchen, made note of all the tissues Friday morning inside JPL's Mission Control, along with the customary lucky peanuts. It then spent more than a decade whirling around the planet and flying close by the many moons in the system, gathering data and making discoveries that many at NASA never even expected.

Ground control sent the spacecraft into the atmosphere of Saturn at about 12.55PM on Friday, September 15, completing a 20-year long mission.

The spacecraft's final radio communications will be sent to the CSIRO's Deep Space centre, located outside Canberra. "Every time we see Saturn in the night sky, we'll remember". In the 13 subsequent years, Cassini collected unprecedented data from the ringed planet and its many moons.

According to NASA, one of the final pieces of data captured by the spacecraft was an infrared photo it took while plummeting to the planet. Project officials invited ground telescopes to look for Cassini's last-gasp flash, but weren't hopeful it would be spotted against the vast backdrop of the solar system's second biggest planet.

The circle shows where NASA believes Cassini burned up in Saturn's atmosphere. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute The Cassini space probe took this image of geysers on the Saturn moon Enceladus shooting 50 miles into space. Two of Saturn's moons - Enceladus and Titan - are considered tantalizing places that could potentially host life, and NASA wants to continue studying these worlds in the future.

The Cassini craft, named after astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini who discovered Saturn's rings, was launched in 1997.

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