Aberystwyth space scientists track end of Cassini Saturn mission

Cassini's Grand Finale Livestream: Watch Spacecraft Plunge Itself Into Saturn Skies Online

These are the last close-up photos of Saturn we may see in decades

It yielded some of the most detailed photos of the iconic rings and the planet's North Pole ever seen. The spacecraft communicated with Earth via the Deep Space Network, a series of telescopes around the world that keep contact with spacecraft that fly beyond the moon. Cassini is now part of the planet it studied.

No spacecraft has ever ventured so close to Saturn before, said Nasa. Within about 30 seconds following loss of signal, the spacecraft came apart; and within a couple of minutes, all remnants of the spacecraft were consumed in the atmosphere of Saturn, NASA said.

Cassini's final images, transmitted in the hours before its death, included an evocative sequence of Enceladus setting behind Saturn, as well as a final close-up look at some of the planet's rings. "Earth received CassiniSaturns final signal at 7:55 am ET".

After 13 years of examining the wonders of Saturn and its surroundings, Cassini's journey in space has ended in fire after a last flood of data. This demise prevented the probe from contaminating any of Saturn's potentially life-bearing moons. Today marks the culmination of Cassini's "grand finale", which began in April. "We'll smile. And we'll want to go back", the United States space agency said.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft noticed that there are moonlet swarms in the Saturn's rings.

In a brilliant career, Cassini racked up six new named moons orbiting Saturn and captured some of the stuff making up the rings. The data could not only inform scientists of the nature of Saturn's atmosphere, but also its gravity. It could analyze cosmic dust, had an ion and neutral mass spectrometer (used for determining the chemical, elemental, and isotopic composition of gaseous and volatile particles), and multiple tools for analyzing the magnetosphere around Saturn. "The mission has not only been a wonderful scientific success but has also shown what can be achieved when scientists and engineers from across the world can work together with a common objective to realise lofty goals".

Cassini was launched in October 1997 by NASA in collaboration with with the European Space Agency.

"Those last few seconds were our first taste of the atmosphere of Saturn", Watkins said to The Post.

NASA project scientist Linda Spilker told CNBC in an interview that she is proposing another mission back to the Saturn system to take the samples necessary determine whether Enceladus actually does have life in its vast underground ocean.

When the spacecraft arrived, Saturn's northern hemisphere was in the dark of winter. "Cassini's discovery of ocean worlds at Titan and Enceladus changed everything, shaking our views to the core about surprising places to search for potential life beyond Earth". Cassini has collected more than 450,000 images using a visible light camera. We learned that there are 3-D structures in the rings. The huge outer "E" ring forms from the icy plumes that spray from the unexpectedly active Enceladus.

Together Cassini and Huygens showed Titan to have a startlingly Earth-like landscape, with rivers, lakes and seas filled with liquid methane and ethane.

NASA's science mission director, Thomas Zurbuchen, made note of all the tissues inside JPL's Mission Control, along with the customary lucky peanuts. Scientists have submitted proposals to NASA to study Saturn and some of its moons, projects that will be up for consideration later this year as the agency decides on its next set of missions.

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