Wednesday, 22 November, 2017

Cassini explorer keeps transmitting while burning up in Saturn's atmosphere

Cassini Probe's Mission to Saturn Comes to an End Cassini Probe's Mission to Saturn Comes to an End
Garry Little | 15 September, 2017, 00:26

The Cassini spacecraft, in orbit around Saturn since mid-2004, will plunge into Saturn's atmosphere in the early morning hours of September 15. For over a decade, Cassini has orbited around Saturn 294 times, collected more than 600 GB of data, visited over a dozen moons and discovered at least seven new ones.

"We had to make decisions on how to dispose of the spacecraft", said Jim Green, director of NASA's planetary science division.

Cassini will be doing science even after being gripped by Saturn's gravity, pulling it into destruction, by measuring the composition, temperature and other properties of Saturn's atmosphere.

Other Cassini stamps were issued in the Maldives, Guinea and Togo, the latter two to mark the mission's tenth year at Saturn in 2014. There are fascinating images of geysers shooting from Enceladus's south pole, attractive images of Saturn's rings (including one with Saturn's shadow falling on them), and a zoomed-in view of Epimetheus (another of Saturn's moons).

Cassini has been exploring Saturn since 2004 when it arrived at the ringed planet. "It will radiate across the Solar System for almost an hour and a half after Cassini itself has gone", said Nasa project manager Earl Maize.

Technically it is not really possible to watch the spacecraft plunge and burn into Saturn as it is well over 1.2 billion km away and according to Business Insider report, Nasa also will not be able to use the Hubble to watch the plunge.

The Cassini spacecraft is now has less than 36 hours left before it commits suicide.

"You can't intervene on a spacecraft that doesn't exist anymore", Staab said.

Cassini's final maneuvers begin at 0714 GMT Friday, although the signal will only reach NASA 86 minutes later. Eastern Sept. 15. The spacecraft itself, he said, would break apart and be vaporized no more than a couple of minutes later. Lunine and many of his colleagues have been working with Cassini for 20 years, and tomorrow, it's goodbye for real-the true end of Cassini's much-hyped Saturn-circling Grand Finale.

"This mission is special, and it's making it more hard to say goodbye because it's lasted so long", said Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science Director Jonathan Lunine.

Another key discovery made by Cassini was a global ocean under the icy surface of another moon, Enceladus, that may sustain life. NASA received a dozen proposals overall, now being evaluated.

Still, "this mission has been going for so long, it's a little hard to believe that it's over", he says. He said he used the term "three-ish" to leave open the possibility of selecting a larger or smaller number of proposals depending on the outcome of the review.

NASA will pick multiple proposals later this year to perform additional studies, then select one proposal in May 2019 for full development. That includes $1.4 billion for prelaunch development, $704 million for mission operations, $54 million for tracking and $422 million for the launch vehicle. Still, the 5,000-pound Cassini, dubbed Battlestar Galactica by another expert on the documentary for all the scientific instruments it contains, also added to our knowledge of Saturn's many moons, which range in size from larger than the planet Mercury to the size of a sports arena.

This will likely happen around 6:30 a.m. Voyager 2 is close behind but on a different trajectory.

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