NASA's Cassini dead: Spacecraft falls silent after two decades of space sojourn covering eight billion kilometres

16 September 2017, 01:07 PM
NASA's Cassini dead? Spacecraft falls silent after 20 years and journey of eight billion kilometres
NASA's Cassini dead? Spacecraft falls silent after 20 years and journey of eight billion kilometres

NASA's Cassini has eventually fallen silent after making a plunge into Saturn. The spacecraft made two decades of space sojourn covering eight billion kilometres. Cassini in its closest approach went so far where no other spacecraft has ever gone before and during that period it made a video's and has released interesting images which was constantly released by NASA.

While making its first plunge through Saturn’s rings, one of the cameras of the spacecraft captured a series of pictures, including the closest-ever images of the gas giant.

"Cassini's own discoveries were its demise," Earl Maize, an engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who manages the Cassini mission, previously told reporters . "We cannot risk inadvertent contact with that pristine body."

"[The main] reason for this ending to the Cassini mission is something that NASA is very worried about – contamination of our life forms on planets and moons that may harbor other forms of life," says Nicholas Suntzeff, a professor of Observational Astronomy at Texas A&M University, tells the Monitor via email.

"The moons of Saturn – Enceladus and Titan – could have life or complex organic molecules that are the soup out of which life forms."

Earth received @CassiniSaturn’s final signal at 7:55am ET. Cassini is now part of the planet it studied. Thanks for the science #GrandFinale

Look at Cassini's journey here:

# October 15, 1997:

The spacecraft launched on October 15, 1997, from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The craft carried the Cassini orbiter, which would eventually be placed into Saturn’s orbit, and the Huygens probe, destined for Titan.

# Venus flybys, 1998-1999:

Cassini for the first time passed Venus on April 25, 1998. It came within 176 miles of the surface of Venus and used the planet’s gravity to accelerate the spacecraft to a speed of around four miles per second. The following year, on 24 June, the spacecraft passed Venus for a second time to get another gravity boost.

# Cassini traveled through the asteroid belt, 1999-2001

Cassini traveled through the asteroid belt that sits between Mars and Jupiter over the next two years. During this period of time, Scientists were able to use instruments on board to study this region of space before the spacecraft moved on to Jupiter, passing by on December 30, 2000. While in this part of space, Cassini joined up with the Galileo spacecraft to give a new view of the largest planet in the solar system.

# Cassini's arrival at Saturn, 2004: 

It was in 2004 that Cassini started approaching Saturn and started exploring Saturn’s moons over several months. Only after this, Cassini successfully discovered two new moons, Methone and Pallene, in May, before making its first flyby of Phoebe in June. The spacecraft was inserted into Saturn’s orbit on July 1.

# Cassini's Huygens departure for Titan, 2004:

The Huygens probe was detached from Cassini on December 23, beginning a three-week descent to the surface of Titan. It successfully landed on January 14, 2005. Its battery lasted for 72 minutes after landing and marks the first and only landing on a moon or planet in the outer solar system. Data returned provided an unprecedented view into the moon’s meteorology and geology.

# Cassini flybys, 2005-2012:

After seven years orbiting Saturn, Cassini made multiple flybys of the planet and its moons. During this period of time, it saw liquid water on Enceladus, discovered new rings round the planet and found lakes on Titan. After completing its primary mission in May 2008, the spacecraft continued its next phase of exploration. In February 2010, the mission was extended to 2017.

# Cassini's Goodbyes, 2015-2016:

Cassini began making its final flybys of Saturn’s moons in 2015 and 2016. During Cassini's last trips, it saw jets of ice and dust coming from Enceladus, charted Titan’s tallest peaks and found and dicovered that it was pure liquid methane. It completed its last flyby of Titan in April in 2017.

Cassini's journey comes to an end on September 15, 2017
So far, the probe has made 22 ring crossings. On Sep 15, it made one final orbit, plunge into the Saturnian atmosphere, and burst into light as an artificial meteor.

"Cassini has got to be put safely away," Maize previously said. The decision was made at the recommendation of NASA's planetary protection office .

First Published: Saturday, September 16, 2017 11:30 AM
For all the latest Science News Download the News Nation App available on Android and iOS.