Last adventure ahead for NASA's Cassini spacecraft at Saturn

Posted April 23, 2017

NARIT Deputy Director Saran Posayachinda disclosed that on 14 April 2017, NASA announced the discovery of two additional oceans in the solar system according to the data from the Hubble Space Telescope and Cassini spacecraft.

As you read this, Cassini on Saturday is already pulling on the gravitational "elastic band" one more time, to shift its orbit from the outer edge of Saturn's main ring system to the inner edge and putting it just 2,000 km above the planet's cloud tops. That night at 10:46 p.m. CDT, Cassini will enter the first of its Grand Finale orbits, a series of 22 weekly dives between the planet and the rings.

The mission - which launched from Earth in 1997 - is coming to an end in September when it makes a planned dive into Saturn's atmosphere, burning up in the process.

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The Cassini spacecraft launched on October 15, 1997 and arrived in the Saturn system in June 2004. But they decided otherwise, with the fuel tank getting nearly empty. Curt Niebur, Cassini program scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., told NBC News MACH in an email.

The other major outstanding question is the age of Saturn's rings.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency. Along with an Enceladus probe, a boat to sail Titan's methane seas has appeared on the wish lists of planetary scientists. It doesn't want to shower contaminating wreckage onto these worlds that might harbor life. New ocean world discoveries from Cassini and Hubble will help inform future exploration and the broader search for life beyond Earth. "We discovered that Europa's plume candidate is sitting right on the thermal anomaly", says William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. Space compels us because it forces us to think outside this myopic view of ourselves - not in a "Dust in the Wind" way, but in the sense that we're tiny flecks of star stuff lucky to be members of something so vast and incredible.

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Cassini will now plunge to its ultimate end for the good of mankind as it begins a suicide descent towards Saturn.

"But the best is still yet to come - perhaps", Maize said at a news conference in early April. We're going to go shooting between Saturn and its rings, threading the needle, which means we'll be able to taste the ring particles, be able to understand more about what those are made of.

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