After 20 years of exploring Saturn, the life of the Cassini spacecraft is close to its end. It will soon start its last mission, after which scientists will say goodbye to the helpful explorer which made so many discoveries in its lifetime.
Exploring the area where no other spacecraft has been
On its last mission, Cassini will plunge into the unknown territory between Saturn and its rings. Then, after sending back what it discovers, the spacecraft will meet its end in the atmosphere of the planet it has been exploring for such a long time.
After passing next to Titan, Saturn’s moon, the spacecraft will make regular trips over the rings. More precisely, it is scheduled to perform 22 weekly jumps towards the planet and then back over the boundary of the rings. They will start this month and will be performed until September.
After six months of exciting exploration of the inner edge of Saturn’s rings, Cassini will mark the end of its mission in a glorious manner. The scientists will disable the spacecraft’s contact with our planet, and then it will enter Saturn’s atmosphere, start burning, and eventually become part of the planet it has been exploring.
Cassini has a glorious history
Cassini will succeed in providing valuable information which was hard to achieve at earlier stages of the mission. It will be able to analyze the magnetic and gravitational fields of the planet, and maybe find out its speed of rotation. Also, we should not forget to mention that it will capture close-up images of the rings and clouds.
Even on its literal final journey, Cassini will continue sending back information to Earth. Before the spacecraft is destroyed, it will offer information about the composition of Saturn’s atmosphere. It will keep delivering data until no contact will be possible, therefore until its destruction.
Since its launch in 1997, the spacecraft had numerous achievements and discoveries. It spent 13 years only on the orbit of Saturn, where it succeeded in collecting valuable information on the ringed planet. Some of the most exciting news were about two of Saturn’s moons.
Enceladus and Titan might have friendly environments which might host life. Even if these environments are not completely habitable, they were dubbed as “prebiotic”. NASA decided that Cassini should have such an explosive end to prevent it from colliding with one of these moons. Thus, the scientists may continue to study them and analyze their potential to host life.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons