NASA’s iconic Cassini spacecraft, which is currently running out of fuel and operating in the midst of its ‘Grand Finale’ phase, is all set to take the pre-planned dive into the upper atmosphere of Saturn, for concluding its 20 years long space odyssey. As confirmed by NASA in its recent statement, as earlier planned, Cassini will take the concluding plunge into Saturn’s upper atmosphere on 15th September, making the mission’s end. A severe gravitational boost, emitted in April from Saturn’s largest moon Titan put the nearly two-decade-old space probe on its path for imminent demolition on 15 September.
As scheduled, Cassini, which is the first spacecraft to orbit and explore Saturn, is currently completing its 22 proposed farewell dives into the narrow space, located between Saturn’s innermost rings and its surface and the journey will end on 15th of the coming month with a final plunge. The spacecraft with its concluding dive will be burnt up as it will move straight into the gas giant’s devastating upper atmosphere. According to the project team of Cassini at NASA, the scheduled destruction of Cassini is needed to alleviate the possibility of the spacecraft ultimately crashing with other celestial bodies and contaminating one of Saturn’s moons.
The final dive of Cassini will end a remarkable and insanely stunning mission that facilitated the scientific world with loads of groundbreaking information and discoveries about Saturn and its planets including seasonal alterations on Saturn, Saturnian moon Titan’s similarity to a prehistoric Earth, and a global deep-sea, hidden on its moon Enceladus with ice plumes spewing out from the Saturnian surface. As the most recent data, beamed back by Cassini has revealed, the innermost Saturnian rings have a lighter mass of dust than they were earlier forecasted. The data also suggested that they are younger than estimated, ageing nearly 120 million years, and thus were configured after the evolution of our solar system, said Cassini’s project scientist Linda Spilker.
Moreover, during its final orbits between the rings and the atmosphere of Saturn, Cassini also examined the planet’s atmosphere and recorded the measurements that will help scientists determining the size of the rocky core of Saturn. In its final stage, Cassini is still busy exploring Saturn and its rings as much as possible. As revealed by the final activities of Cassini, NASA said, the spacecraft will keep on transmitting the real-time data to Earth until it drops its contact with Earth at 4:54 a.m. PDT (1154 GMT) on September 15.
As said by Curt Niebur, a program scientist of Cassini during a telephone conference call with the journalists from NASA’s California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “The odyssey of Cassini has been passionate, insanely, wonderfully victorious, and within two weeks, the beautiful journey is about to end.”
Cassini has been orbiting Saturn and its 62 known moons since July 2004 and has successfully transmitted enough data which can cover nearly 4,000 scientific papers.