NASA scientists, on September 13, briefed reporters on the last days of the Cassini spacecraft that ends its 13-year mission to Saturn in mid-September, transmitting data until the final moment before it plunges into the ringed planet’s atmosphere.
Cassini, the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn, will make the last of 22 farewell dives between the planet’s rings and surface on September 15. The spacecraft will then burn up as it heads straight into the gas giant’s crushing atmosphere.
Cassini’s final dive will end a mission that provided groundbreaking discoveries that included seasonal changes on Saturn, the moon Titan’s resemblance to a primordial Earth, and a global ocean on the moon Enceladus with ice plumes spouting from its surface.
By destroying the spacecraft, NASA will ensure that any hitchhiking Earth microbes still alive on Cassini will not contaminate the moons for future study.
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