Goodbye, Cassini: 5 highlights of the 20 year long mission to Saturn

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No spacecraft has ever ventured so close to the planet before, NASA said. That's when radio signals from the spacecraft - its last scientific gifts to Earth - came to an abrupt halt.

Saturn's moons Titan and Enceladus are two of the most promising places in our solar system for the discovery of extraterrestrial life. "The discoveries that Cassini has made over the past 13 years in orbit have rewritten the textbooks of Saturn, have discovered worlds that could be habitable and have guaranteed that we will return to that ringed world", said Michael Watkins, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Armed with a one-megapixel camera, then considered state-of-the-art, the Cassini spacecraft began its seven year voyage to Saturn.

Cassini's final descent to Saturn is also a final window of opportunity for scientists.

While astronomers and planetary enthusiasts may miss the data and photos gathered by Saturn, NASA's Juno spacecraft is also orbiting Jupiter.

Faced with dwindling propellent supplies, Cassini's engineering team dreamt up an audacious plan to get the most interesting science results possible before safely disposing of the spacecraft. The MR-103H derives its heritage from the Voyager missions (40 years on orbit and still operational) and its most recent variation provides attitude control for a variety of Low-Earth Orbit, Medium-Earth Orbit, geosynchronous and interplanetary spacecraft including New Horizons.

This was in the hopes of investigating the "ring rain" phenomenon discovered by NASA's Voyager mission in the early 1980s, in which it appeared that the rings were raining down material on the planet and causing changes in the atmosphere. His first book-Lifting Titan's Veil, published in 2002-covered what we knew before exploration by Cassini and its Huygens probe, which landed on Titan in January 2005. NASA's Cassini Post-End of Mission News Conference will begin at 9:30 a.m. EDT. So the team made a decision to bring Cassini closer to Saturn than ever before to do some final science, before sending the probe into the planet to meet its fiery end. During its broadcast NASA played a video clip of the Cassini Virtual Singers, spacecraft team members who belted out, "Tonight, tonight, we take the plunge tonight." to the music from "West Side Story".

One of Cassini's crowning achievements came in April of this year, as it spun through a narrow gap in Saturn's rings, beaming back images and making scientific measurements along the way.

Cassini departed Earth in 1997 and arrived at the sixth planet from our sun in 2004.

It has traveled almost five billion miles, executed 2.5 million commands, conducted 162 targeted flybys of Saturn's moons, completed 294 orbits and its collected data has led to the publication of almost 4,000 research papers.

The odyssey "Cassini" will be completed.

"We didn't have any choice", Maize said in an interview shortly before the end of the mission, when asked why the mission ended with a plunge into the atmosphere. Their age may be more than 4 billion years ago.

"As well as Mars, outer planet moons like Enceladus, Europa and even Titan are now top contenders for life elsewhere", he added, AFP reported. It is now known to have millions of rings, thought to be the remnants of a moon that strayed too close and was torn apart by Saturn's huge gravitational field.

Plus, the spacecraft captured as much data as it could up until the very end.

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