Goodbye Cassini: NASA spacecraft makes 'death plunge' into Saturn's atmosphere

According to NASA Cassini used its visual and infrared mapping spectrometer to observe the impact site which was at the time on Saturn¿s night side. Then it was lit only by light reflected from the planet¿s massive rings. This image shows

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.

Before its end, Cassini took a variety of samples in an effort to gain a better understanding of the planet's composition. Others are just switched off. NASA's Cassini, though, is going down fighting as it plunges into Saturn, sending back science right up until its final moments. Back in April, the spacecraft started a series of orbits that had the goal of looking in between and behind Saturn's rings.

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.

The spacecraft was expected to tumble out of control while plummeting at 76,000 miles per hour through the gas giant planet's atmosphere.

SPACE scientists at Aberystwyth University are following the progress of the Cassini spacecraft as it nears the end of its 20-year mission to Saturn. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute) As it glanced around the Saturn system one final time, NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured this view of the planet's giant moon Titan.

When was the last message?: Actually, Cassini sent one final bit of data before it crashed and burn, according to NASA, at about 7:55 a.m. ET on Friday.

Spacecraft Operations Manager Julie Webster announced the loss of signal within a minute of the predicted demise. They chose to steer it toward a fiery death in Saturn's atmosphere primarily to protect Titan and Enceladus - to ensure that any Earth microbes that may have hitched a ride aboard Cassini never contaminate those two possibly habitable moons.

The mission, a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI), has delivered some of the most astonishing findings known to astronomy since it began transmitting data 13 years ago. "Every time we see Saturn in the night sky, we'll remember".

On Thursday, Cassini snapped its "last memento photos" of the Saturn system.

This dramatic suicide dive by the Cassini Huygens probe into Saturn is standard disposal procedure for all planetary exploration space probes from NASA. The orbiter, meanwhile, kept cruising through the Saturn system, studying the giant planet, its rings and its diverse panoply of moons.

NASA's Cassini probe is no more.

"Already, Saturn is beckoning us to go back", Green said.

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