Wednesday, 22 November, 2017

Here's why NASA had to crash Cassini

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Luke Weaver throws during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds Thursday Sept. 14 2017 in St. Louis These are the last close-up photos of Saturn we may see in decades
Howard Terry | 16 September, 2017, 00:12

At 12.56 pm United Kingdom time, all radio contact with the 22ft long nuclear-powered probe was lost as Cassini tumbled to its doom 930 miles above Saturn's cloud tops. Cassini remained in orbit around Saturn, the only spacecraft to ever circle the planet. This last route took Cassini in the gap between Saturn and its rings, the closest the vehicle has ever come to the planet.

"There are global treaties that require that we can't just leave a derelict spacecraft in orbit around a planet like Saturn, which has prebiotic moons", said Maize.

As Cassini hurtles on towards its death, the program head at NASA - Curt Niebur - is philosophical about the probe's final fate.

Nasa's Earl Maize said he felt great pride and couldn't have asked for more from "such an incredible machine". What we'll watch it is slowly turn away from us and we'll watch the indicator on the radio science displays that will go down flat and essentially lost signal.

The mission's final calculations predict loss of contact with the Cassini spacecraft will take place on Friday at 7.55 a.m. EDT (5.25 pm Friday India time). "For 13 years we have been running a marathon of scientific discovery, and we are on the last lap", she said early Friday.

This Grand Finale, as NASA calls it, came about as Cassini's fuel tank started getting low after 13 years exploring the planet.

They also shared this movie of Enceladus setting behind Saturn. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute The Cassini space probe took this image of geysers on the Saturn moon Enceladus shooting 50 miles into space. Cassini has almost run out of propellant, and the space agency wants to avoid crashing into and contaminating the moons; thus, the nuclear-powered probe is being put down.

A lonelier solar system For now, the Jupiter probe Juno is our lone craft in the "second zone" of our solar system, which contains the gas and ice giant planets and their approximately 170 moons. On the tiny white dot peering through the rings (pictured below), the entire mission team sat waiting to hear that their spacecraft successfully completed its mission-ending dive. A total solar eclipse crossed the country late last month, and the Nurture Nature Center is planning to mark the 40th anniversary of the launches of Voyager 1 and 2 - which are the farthest man-made objects from Earth.

In all, Cassini collected more than 453,000 images and traveled 4.9 billion miles. It was an worldwide endeavor, with 27 nations taking part. The final price tag was $3.9 billion.

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