On September 15, one of the most fruitful space missions ever imagined will come to an end. After two decades in space, Cassini’s fuel supplies are close to being depleted. To avoid contaminating one of Saturn’s moons, including a pair that could harbor life–Enceladus and Titan–the decision was made to retire Cassini into Saturn’s atmosphere. Up until contact between the orbiter and Earth is lost, Cassini will continue to study our beloved ringed planet. New insight will be gleaned from this mission that’s only made possible by Cassini’s fatal approach to the gas giant. Among the data to be collected:
The spacecraft will make detailed maps of Saturn’s gravity and magnetic fields, revealing how the planet is arranged internally, and possibly helping to solve the irksome mystery of just how fast Saturn is rotating.
The final dives will vastly improve our knowledge of how much material is in the rings, bringing us closer to understanding their origins.
Cassini’s particle detectors will sample icy ring particles being funneled into the atmosphere by Saturn’s magnetic field.
Its cameras will take amazing, ultra-close images of Saturn’s rings and clouds.
Cassini launched on Oct. 15, 1997. After a seven-year journey the orbiter arrived at ...