Science Space

Cassini-Huygens’s greatest discoveries: Methane leaks, Saturn’s rings and its 60 odd moons


The countdown has begun for the NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will take its last dive in Saturn tomorrow (15 September). Cassini is finishing the mission by taking the intentional plunge in the planet.

As per the reports of NASA, “The mission’s final calculations predict loss of contact with the Cassini spacecraft will take place on Sept. 15 at 7:55 a.m. EDT (4:55 a.m. PDT). Cassini will enter Saturn’s atmosphere approximately one minute earlier, at an altitude of about 1,190 miles (1,915 kilometers) above the planet’s estimated cloud tops (the altitude where the air pressure is 1-bar, equivalent to sea level on Earth). During its dive into the atmosphere, the spacecraft’s speed will be approximately 70,000 miles (113,000 kilometers) per hour. The final plunge will take place on the day side of Saturn, near local noon, with the spacecraft entering the atmosphere around 10 degrees north latitude.”

A few years ago, NASA decided to send a flagship mission to the Saturn to get detailed information about the mysterious ring planet. Hence, on 1997 NASA launched its robotic spacecraft, Cassini for an ambitious mission to Saturn.

According to NASA,” No spacecraft has ever ventured so close to the planet before.”

And now, after completing 13 years of a journey around the ring planet, Cassini is going to destroy itself inside the Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15. Cassini will complete its “Grand Finale”, where it travelled through a series of 22 dives between the rings of Saturn in the last few months and also it has successfully dived down to 600km above the Saturn’s clouds. This final in-depth trip provided some valuable information about the chemical composition of Saturn’s atmosphere. Also, Cassini’s high-resolution cameras will take their last look across Saturn system and will send back pictures of Titan and Enceladus.

Cassini was launched on October 15, 1997, through collaboration between NASA, ESA and the Italian Space agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana. On June 30, 2004, the spacecraft successfully entered the orbit of Saturn carrying the Huygens probe. Cassini was officially assigned a four years prime mission, but it was extended twice and resulted in an astonishing 13 years long mission highlighting the enormous capacity of the space craft.
And Cassini has not disappointed any one. During its long mission, Cassini has been able to provide some mind blowing and unknown details about Saturn, its rings and its 60 odd moons. And it has also captured some beautiful and never seen before images of the ring planet and its moons, through its lenses.

The important discoveries of Saturn include the global ocean indicating hydrothermal activity inside Enceladus which hinted scientists that it could sustain life. Also, it detected liquid methane seas on Titan. It also revealed that the rings of Saturn are not always stormy or full of dust. There are some huge gaps in the rings where the atmosphere is silent and less dusty. During its final dive, the spacecraft will collect detailed maps of Saturn’s magnetic fields and gravity which will reveal some interesting facts about the internal arrangements of Saturn which could solve the mystery of the fast rotation of the ring planet. The scientists are very much satisfied and amazed with the detailed works of Cassini and depicted this mission as a revolutionary one. Cassini’s sacrifice will be remembered for ever.


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