NASA is about to say a fond farewell to its Cassini spacecraft.
After 13 years of exploring Saturn and its mysterious moons, Cassini is running out of fuel.
NASA is using the remaining dregs to fly it straight into Saturn on September 15th, where the $US3.26 billion spacecraft will be obliterated. Here’s a break down of what will happen as the final day approaches.
September 9th —
Cassini will pass through the gap between Saturn and its rings for the last time.
It will be just 1,044 miles above the planet.
Since April, Cassini has been diving dangerously close to Saturn’s cloud tops, collecting new, detailed date on Saturn’s turbulent upper atmosphere.
September 11th —
Cassini will make its final pass by Saturn’s largest moon Titan.
Titan is an exotic world with lakes of liquid methane and ethane.
These lakes make Titan a potential candidate for alien life.
September 14th —
Cassini is in a runaway dive toward Saturn.
NASA couldn’t prevent Cassini’s death now even if it wanted to.
One of its final actions is to point its antenna toward Earth so it can transmit its final data to Earth before annihilation.
September 15th, 4:37am EDT (8:37am GMT, 6:37pm AEST) —
Cassini starts its final plunge, shifting its position so it can start to sample the atmosphere.
7:53 am EDT (11:53am GMT, 9:53pm AEST) —
Cassini reaches Saturn’s atmosphere
It fires its thrusters to keep the antennae pointed at Earth.
7:54am EDT —
It only takes a minute for the atmospheric forces to overwhelm Cassini.
The spacecraft loses control, severing its connection to Earth.
Over the next few minutes, Cassini will break apart and burn up.
This brilliant end is exactly what NASA planned.
Destroying Cassini in Saturn’s atmosphere will prevent it from crash landing somewhere else like on Titan or Enceladus where it could harm any alien life that may live there.
While the spacecraft might be no more, its discoveries will live on and pave the way for future missions to come.
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