NASA's Cassini to take death plunge into Saturn's surface

April 26, 2017 5:23 PM |

Cassini Nasa 1

Cassini is an unmanned NASA spacecraft launched in 1997. 22-foot-tall (6.7 meter) is a 20-year-old joint mission of NASA and the Italian Space Agency.

The spacecraft had begun orbiting Saturn in 2004. But, now, Cassini is running low on fuel and will make a death plunge into Saturn's surface on September 15. The decision to end the mission was made in back in 2010, which was primarily aimed to evade damaging moons like Enceladus that could be explored for signs of life in the future.

The spaceship's first 22 deep dives between Saturn and its innermost ring is scheduled for April 26 at 5:00 am as per Florida local time (0900 GMT). Communications with the spacecraft will go dark during the dive for the day and for about a day afterward, while it makes scientific observations of the planet.

Only If Cassini survives the trip, it would be able to make radio contact with Earth as early as by 3:05 am (0705 GMT) on April 27. Images and other data are expected to begin flowing in as soon as the communication is established.

Luciano Less, Cassini team member at Italy's Sapienza University of Rome said, “Venturing between the planet and its rings for the first time is a dangerous moment for the mission. The spacecraft will be closer than ever to the band of ice and space rocks that circle Saturn”.

The debris move at a speed of about 67,800 miles per hour. The final aim of the spacecraft is to offer a fresh look at the rings, revealing more about their mass and its age and many heavy elements concentrated in the interior of Saturn.

Saturn houses about more than 60 moons and Cassini has made several new discoveries on some that may have conditions conducive for life. One of the discoveries include the discovery of icy moon Enceladus concealing a subsurface, salty ocean beneath its crust, and may be able to support living microbes.

It has dropped a European probe on Saturn's massive moon Titan and revealed that its surface is made up of methane liquid seas. It also observed storms, lightning and clouds around Saturn for the first time.

Image Credit: NASA



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