See Cassini's last image before it died at Saturn

Richard Wilson

Richard Wilson

The probe's final dip ends Cassini's 13-year mission exploring Saturn and its moons.

"We just heard the signal from the spacecraft is gone, and within the next 45 seconds so will be the spacecraft", announced Earl Maize, Cassini's project manager. Early on Friday, Cassini plunged into Saturn's atmosphere, but it sent back one final image before its destruction. It was a billion miles aways when it crashed on Saturn, a gas giant 764 times larger than Earth by volume. The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), the leading United Kingdom body for astronomy, space science and geophysics, counts among its members many of those involved in the mission, and offers its congratulations to the teams at NASA, ESA, ASI, and around the world, whose efforts saw the spacecraft deliver science from its launch to its destruction.

No other spacecraft has ever explored this unique region. After receiving a "goodbye kiss" from Titan on September 11-a gravitational sling from the large moon to put the spacecraft on the correct trajectory-Cassini hurled toward Saturn one last time at roughly 75,000 miles per hour, on a collision course to plunge into the planet itself and burn up in the high clouds. NASA predicted it would receive the final signal at 7:55AM ET, and wound up getting it about half a minute later than expected.

"The spacecraft's final signal will be like an echo".

The center, at 518 Northampton Street, scheduled two free events in honor of Cassini's conclusion, which use Nurture Nature's spherical projection screen to track the Cassini's journey from Earth, around Venus, past Jupiter and to Saturn, incorporating a history of space exploration. "But, we take comfort knowing that every time we look up at Saturn in the night sky, part of Cassini will be there, too". "Moreover, it carried in its cargo bay a smaller robotic probe, Huygens, built by the European Space Agency, which achieved a "soft landing" on Saturn's giant moon Titan, revealing lakes and rivers of liquid methane on that exotic world". This last route took Cassini in the gap between Saturn and its rings, the closest the vehicle has ever come to the planet.

Since that flyby, Cassini has been hurtling toward Saturn, taking its final photos and gathering its final data.

Armed with a one-megapixel camera, then considered state-of-the-art, the Cassini spacecraft began its seven year voyage to Saturn.

"It will be sad to see Cassini go on Friday, especially as the instrument we built is still working perfectly", said Stanley Cowley, professor of solar planetary physics at the University of Leicester.

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