Cassini is reaching the end of its mission to study Saturn, as it’s entering the last week of its existence. On September 15th, the spacecraft will plunge into the atmosphere of the planet, where it will meet its end. This is a majestic way to terminate one of the most valuable space missions, as Cassini will continue to transmit images until it burns up completely.
Cassini launched twenty years ago
This was one of the most daring and ambitious missions ever designed. It was the final product of a collaboration between ESA, NASA, and Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, Italy’s very own space agency. The mission began on October 15th, 1997, as the spacecraft was launched into space. After seven years, it finally reached Saturn, placed at ten times the distance between Earth and the Sun.
Soon after it reached its destination, it dropped Huygens lander, another smaller spacecraft devised by ESA to study Saturn’s moon Titan. It finally landed on the moon on January 14th, 2005. Scientists were interested in studying Titan, since they had previously found evidence it was similar to our planet before life began.
After Huygens returned its findings, they discovered traces of chemicals which might have made it possible for the existence of life. Also, this was the first space probe to offer clear images of Titan’s harsh surface.
The spacecraft found incredible discoveries regarding Saturn and its moons
Cassini also took a closer look at Titan, and signaled the existence of liquid methane lakes and seas. However, this wasn’t the only moon to hold such formations. Enceladus, for instance, had an entire ocean hidden beneath a thick ice layer, and it might even be the perfect environment to host life.
Other interesting discoveries of Cassini include the huge storms present at both of Saturn’s poles, or the mysterious radio frequencies coming from the inside of the planet. Also, an analysis of the rings showed how its moons and other cosmic bodies formed.
Now, Cassini’s end is approaching. However, the spacecraft will remain dedicated to its mission, and will continue transmitting images from inside Saturn’s atmosphere until all connection is lost, and it finally reaches its end.
Image Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory