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NASA’s Cassini mission comes to a bittersweet end

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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft intentionally dove into Saturn’s atmosphere after orbiting the planet for 13 years. The spacecraft, launched in orbit on 15th Oct, 1997, was beginning to fall short of fuel and members associated with the mission had planned to terminate the craft’s long journey.

During its lifetime, Cassini had disclosed to space scientists, many amazing facts about Saturn, its moons, and the distinguished rings.

The spacecraft dove into the planet’s atmosphere on 15th Sept, ‘17 and sent its last signal back on Earth at 7:55 am EDT, before losing contact with NASA’s space station back in the USA, and disappearing forever to become a part of the planet itself, as the spacecraft burned like a meteor in the planet’s atmosphere.

The scientists took up this step to ensure that Saturn’s moons, including Enceladus, remained free of contamination had the spacecraft fallen into one of them, and secure the pristine environments for future exploration.

With much applaud for the mission and the hard working team, Cassini program manager Earl Maize addressed his team as follows. “I hope you are all deeply proud of this amazing accomplishment,” he said, referring to the amazing discoveries made by the spacecraft. “It’s Friday Sept.15, and our Cassini mission has officially come to a spectacular end,” said Maize.

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The spacecraft communicated with Earth via the Deep Space Network, a number of telescopes set round the globe to communicate with satellites that would go beyond the Moon. These would then transmit data to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, USA.

The JPL the last signals received from Cassini, which was indeed a well-engineered satellite, as 8 out of its 12 machines were functioning even in fall.

The Cassini had made scientists know what was never known before- it sent back to Earth amazing photos and videos of the planet, which disclosed quite a lot about the planet, and even hinted towards the existence of life on one of its moons- Titan.

Some of the top discoveries of Cassini are listed below.

  • Cassini hinted towards the existence of water on Titan. Later, it sent images of three large oceans near the North Pole, and a huge lake near the South Pole of the moon.

With its dense atmosphere and huge liquid reservoirs, Titan is more like a terrestrial planet, and is one of the largest moons of our solar system. However, Titan is 95% nitrogen and very little oxygen, making it hard for life to survive.

  • One of Cassini’s major discoveries was that it hinted towards the presence of life on Enceladus, which housed a global ocean of salt-water under icy sheets, some of which even shoots out into space, creating an immense plume that vent out from its South Pole. It disclosed that Enceladus was the source of Saturn’s E ring, which has a similar temperature and climate conditions, and that water on both originates from possibly interconnected vents.
  • Cassini left Lapetus as a huge mystery for scientists to resolve, as the Topographic ridge almost exactly coincides with the moon’s geographic equator. It is yet to be ascertained whether the ridge is mainly mountains that folded upwards, or accumulation of material from inside Lapetus on the surface.
  • Saturn’s Rings are one of its most unique structures and distinguishes it from any other planet in the Milky Way. The nature, origin, and significance of its rings as determined by Cassini, and they were named from A to G in the order of their discovery.
  • Cassini even recorded video of Striking light on Saturn, bearing much resemblance to Earth’s lightning, this being the first-ever video to be recorded of lightning on any other planet than Earth.

 

Hence, Cassini made full utilization of its lifetime, and opened various new aspects of the world to us.

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