Cassini: 20-Year Mission to Saturn Nears Grand Finale

One last look at Titan on Cassni’s final journey.     NASA  JPL-Caltech

One last look at Titan on Cassni’s final journey. NASA JPL-Caltech

But contact will quickly be lost once the spacecraft enters Saturn's atmosphere at a high speed. How do you become a NASA scientist?

The geometry of the flyby causes Cassini to slow down slightly in its orbit around Saturn. It's darted 22 times between that gap, sending back ever more wondrous photos.

During its final plunge early Friday morning, Cassini will keep sampling Saturn's atmosphere and beaming back data, until the spacecraft loses control and its antenna no longer points toward Earth. It should be all over in a minute. I want to be a NASA scientist when I grow up.

Cassini will transmit data up until its last moments.

The plutonium on board will be the last thing to go. Project officials said once the iridium melts, the plutonium will be dispersed into the atmosphere.

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Now, after all this, Cassini has run out of fuel. -European mission is winding down. We set out to do something at Saturn, we did it, we did it extremely well, and we delivered more and more.

Cassini's long journey has been replete with scientific firsts, planetary revelations and jaw-dropping, awesome images. Cassini-Huygens contributed to almost 4,000 scientific publications. "We have even watched the rings changing over the course of this mission". Those were just flybys, though, and offered fleeting glances. Titan - a moon of Saturn the size of planet Mercury - may also have a liquid ocean. The current count is 62.

CU Boulder Professor Larry Esposito has been eying the fabulous rings of Saturn for much of his career, beginning as a team scientist on NASA's Pioneer 11 mission when he discovered the planet's faint F ring in 1979.

One of Esposito's favorite discoveries using UVIS was the detection of a huge cloud of neutral oxygen atoms in the Saturn system on approach in 2003, which puzzled scientists for years.

Still believed intact, Huygens remains the only spacecraft to actually land in one of our outer planetary systems.

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The total distance covered by Cassini-Huygens throughout its life is staggering.

In 2005, the probe detected jets of water shooting out of Saturn's moon Enceladus. These geysers are so tall and forceful that they actually blast icy particles into one of Saturn's rings.

Cassini data and observations revealed that while seemingly inhospitable to us, two of Saturn's moons, Enceladus and Titan, could be potentially habitable for some form of life. "But this has been a marvelous ride".

"The book is not complete".

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