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SPACE Cassini to end 20 year-long mission by plummeting through Saturn's Atmosphere in a spectacular ball of flames

To badly burn where no spacecraft has burnt before. Check out some of the incredible images it took of the ringed planet. Goodbye Cassini.

Published 30 AUG 2017 15:23AM

The Cassini spacecraft launched in 1997 by NASA with its main objective to study Saturn over the course of a 13 year-long mission, it took seven years to reach the ringed planet.

The probe has made some incredible discoveries during its orbit. It revealed a magnetically dynamic planet with an assortment of complex moons, one of which, Enceladus, shows icy jets rocketing from its surface. The mission also revealed incredible oceans on the moon Titan, hydrocarbon lakes and seas are dominated by liquid ethane and methane, and complex pre-biotic chemicals form in the atmosphere and rain to the surface.

Cassini: The Wonder of Saturn

This view looks toward the Saturn-facing hemisphere of Enceladus (313 miles or 504 kilometers across). North is up. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on April 13, 2017.

Cassini gazes across the icy rings of Saturn toward the icy moon Tethys, whose night side is illuminated by Saturnshine, or sunlight reflected by the planet. Tethys was on the far side of Saturn with respect to Cassini here; an observer looking upward from the moon's surface toward Cassini would see Saturn's illuminated disk filling the sky.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft sees bright methane clouds drifting in the summer skies of Saturn's moon Titan, along with dark hydrocarbon lakes and seas clustered around the north pole.

On September 15 the two ton craft will plunge to its death in a spectacular fiery blaze as it plummets through Saturn's atmosphere to bring it's 20 year-long mission to a close.

This is the timeline of its final moments as predicted by NASA

see NASA for updated times

Sept. 9 Cassini will make the last of 22 passes between Saturn itself and its rings -- closest approach is 1,044 miles (1,680 kilometers) above the clouds tops.

Sept. 11 Cassini will make a distant flyby of Saturn's largest moon, Titan. Even though the spacecraft will be at 73,974 miles (119,049 kilometers) away, the gravitational influence of the moon will slow down the spacecraft slightly as it speeds past. A few days later, instead of passing through the outermost fringes of Saturn's atmosphere, Cassini will dive in too deep to survive the friction and heating.


Sept. 14 Cassini's imaging cameras take their last look around the Saturn system, sending back pictures of moons Titan and Enceladus, the hexagon-shaped jet stream around the planet's north pole, and features in the rings.

Sept. 14 (5:45 p.m. EDT / 2:45 p.m. PDT) Cassini turns its antenna to point at Earth, begins a communications link that will continue until end of mission, and sends back its final images and other data collected along the way.

Sept. 15 (4:37 a.m. EDT / 1:37 a.m. PDT) The "final plunge" begins. The spacecraft starts a 5-minute roll to position INMS for optimal sampling of the atmosphere, transmitting data in near real time from now to end of mission.


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