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NASA's Cassini spacecraft's to soon crash into Saturn, marking end of mission

US Spacecraft Cassini Readies for Fiery Plunge Into Saturn After 13-Year Mission

The Cassini spacecraft has expended nearly all of its propulsion fuel and is being deliberately plunged to its demise in the atmosphere of Saturn. Lunine and many of his colleagues have been working with Cassini for 20 years, and tomorrow, it's goodbye for real-the true end of Cassini's much-hyped Saturn-circling Grand Finale. So researchers decided that the spacecraft must be destroyed.

"Cassini-Huygens is a classic example of a "flagship" mission, accomplishing tremendous science in many disciplines over many years", said Alfred McEwen, a UA professor of planetary sciences, on Monday as he prepared to leave for Pasadena, California.

The process started in April, with small adjustments in Cassini's orbit that gradually sent it closer to the planet, eventually plunging through the gap inside the rings. "In fact, it's possible the most promising place to look for life in the solar system outside of Earth is among these oceans worlds in the outer solar system".

He said Cassini had re-written the textbooks on where one might try to find life beyond Earth.

The probe was equipped with an instrument called DISR, short for Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer.

Larry Esposito is a professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences at CU. What he called Cassini's "long-term relationship with Titan" ended with a September 11 flyby during which Titan deflected Cassini into an impact trajectory, "like a final kiss goodbye with Titan", Maize said. Built at Jet Propulsion Laboratory under the leadership of Robert Brown, operations for VIMS moved to the UA when Brown assumed a position as professor at LPL. During its journey, Cassini has made numerous dramatic discoveries.

Data collected by Cassini's spectrometer while passing through a vapor plume at Enceladus's south pole showed hydrogen shooting up through cracks in its ice layer. It was the first mission that was launched to specifically study Saturn and was the first to go near enough to the planet to take detailed images since the Pioneer and Voyager crafts flew by it, several decades before it.

The public can watch Cassini's final moments live on NASA TV and online, beginning Thursday night.

Cassini was sent to Saturn to study its rings, the makeup of its surface and its hemisphere and to study its moons. Enceladus plows along the orbit of the E Ring, Saturn's second-from-outermost ring, which reaches extremely far out into space, brushing up against the orbit of Titan.

And it's a good thing we did because the scientific discoveries have been near-constant in the 11 years since Cassini left home. The Cassini mission is a cooperative project between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency.

The Cassini spacecraft is making its final plunge into Saturn, taking its last pictures of the planet, its rings and its moons.

"We do see the water, but we see other constituents as well", he said. And it will continue collecting and transmitting data until the very end of its life. "It won't go very deep, because it is not a probe created to go deep, but still deeper than anything else". In 2004, the fast food restaurants Carl's Jr. and Hardee's offered a "NASA Kids" meal that included among other toys "Cassini Meets Saturn", a pullback Cassini that "orbited" a model of the ringed planet.

Cassini has been beaming historic photos and data almost 1.6 billion kilometres back to Earth and a team of Australian scientists have been at the forefront of the mission.