Sat, Sep 09, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Cassini spacecraft prepares for final plunge into Saturn

The Guardian

NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn is entering its final week.

On Friday next week it is to dive toward the planet and burn up in its atmosphere. NASA has called it the grand finale.

Cassini is one of the most ambitious space missions. It is a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency.

The spacecraft, launched on Oct. 15, 1997, took seven years to travel through the solar system to Saturn, which lies about 10 times farther from the sun than Earth.

Soon after arrival, the spacecraft jettisoned the ESA’s Huygens lander, which touched down on Saturn’s moon Titan on Jan. 14, 2005.

Titan is thought to be similar to Earth before life began and Huygens’ readings showed tantalizing hints of chemistry that might have led to the formation of life.

It also provided the first pictures of the moon’s rugged landscape.

Cassini went on to discover lakes and even seas of liquid methane on Titan.

At Enceladus, another moon, Cassini found a global ocean under the ice crust that might sustain life.

The spacecraft also studied giant storms on Saturn and discovered hurricanes at both poles. It has revealed natural radio waves from inside the planet whose origin remains mysterious.

In studying the famous rings of Saturn, which are made up of dust, pebbles and rock, the mission provided insight into how planets and moons form.

Extended time and again from an original four-year mission, Cassini is entering the final stages. As it plunges into the atmosphere, it is to continue to beam back data and images until the very end.

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