NASA's Cassini spacecraft to end 13-year mission in fiery demise

All that's left now for Cassini is a fiery demise.
By Delila James | Aug 30, 2017
NASA's Cassini spacecraft is preparing for its final death dance through Saturn's rings that will end in the early morning of September 15 when it plunges through Saturn's atmosphere at speeds exceeding 75,000 miles per hour.

Within three minutes of hitting the upper layers of Saturn's atmosphere, Cassini will disintegrate, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.

During its 13-year stint in space, Cassini has "rewritten the textbooks on Saturn," said Linda Spilker of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in the Times report. These include revealing unknown complexities in Saturn's ring system, the discovery of plumes of water ice rising from the moon Enceladus, and finding lakes and rivers of methane and ethane on the moon Titan.

But Cassini is not dead yet; and scientists are excited about what new data the spacecraft will transmit before its final act of self-immolation.

For example, scientists hope to learn more about Saturn's atmosphere as Cassini plunges to depths of up to 9,300 miles (15,000 kilometers). They also hope to better understand the mass of Saturn's rings, the nature of the planet's magnetic field source, and the precise length of its day or how long it takes Saturn to spin once on its axis.

"I find great comfort that Cassini will continue teaching us until the very last second on Sept. 15," said Curt Niebur, a Cassini program scientist based at NASA headquarters in Washington, in the Times report.

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