Cassini Probe Prepares to Die

first_img Hubble Space Telescope Captures Star’s Eerie Gaseous GlowElon Musk’s Cheeky ‘Nuke Mars!’ Post Is Taking Over Twitter Stay on target I still remember when my mom and I drove over to a friend’s house to watch part of the Cassini-Huygens probe land on Titan. That was almost twelve years ago. And now, Cassini, an orbiter that’s been circling Saturn and sending troves of data back to Earth ever since, is preparing for the final stage of its mission.Starting last week, Cassini will dive through the rings of Saturn once every few days, completing 20 passes. This is the final stage of the mission, but it will help NASA and its European counterpart, the ESA, gain valuable new insight into the composition and history of Saturn’s spectacular rings. It’s the first stage of what NASA has dubbed Cassini’s “Grand Finale.” As it skims the rings, it will study the gas and debris that compose them, before skimming Saturn’s upper clouds, and, finally, plunging directly into the gas giant on September 15 of next year.The dives will focus on Saturn’s F ring. It’s one of the smallest, only a few hundred miles across, but it’s in a constant state of flux, creating and morphing new features all the time. It will also give Cassini a great opportunity to gather information on Saturn’s smaller, inner moons like Pan and Atlas.The next phase will have Cassini measuring Saturn’s gravitational and magnetic fields as it skims the cloud tops 22 times, plus, it will gather some of the best photos of Saturn we’ve ever had.The death dive, while sad, is actually an act of interplanetary conservation. The probe is very low on fuel for its thrusters and the main engine. Without that, the probe will eventually lose control, and given that Enceladus and Titan, two of Saturn’s largest moons, might be able to support life, NASA wants to ensure that there’s no chance we will contaminate them with debris from Earth.Cassini’s mission, from launch until now, has run almost 20 years. No matter how you slice it, that’s pretty good for any bit of technology. So next year, we’ll be saying our final goodbyes to one of the most successful space missions and one of the best probes humanity’s ever sent to space.last_img read more