Monday 25 September 2017

Grand finale for Cassini after epic journey to ringed planet

NASA illustration of Cassini above Saturn's northern hemisphere prior to making one of its Grand Finale dives. Photo: NASA/PA
NASA illustration of Cassini above Saturn's northern hemisphere prior to making one of its Grand Finale dives. Photo: NASA/PA

Andrew Griffin

Cassini, one of the world's most daring spacecraft, is about to die. But it will have lived a "bizarrely wonderful" life.

Right now, the craft is flying over the top of Saturn, gathering yet more information about the planet it has been circling for years.

But today, its mission will come to an end.

The craft will be smashed into Saturn's atmosphere, burning up and destroying itself, so that it doesn't accidentally hit one of the planet's moons and populate it with bacteria it carried from Earth. Even that act of destruction will give us an unparalleled view of Saturn itself, as Cassini points itself towards the planet, taking pictures of it and sending back information right until its very last moment.

"Cassini has turned the moons of Saturn from dots of light into places, from Huygens landing on Titan, with its ice rocks and seas of methane, to the plumes of water being ejected from Enceladus, to bizarrely shaped moons like Hyperion and Pan," said Dave Clements, an astrophysicist at Imperial College London.

Irish Independent

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