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Spectacular finale for legendary Cassini space-probe

Spectacular finale for legendary Cassini space-probe

The Cassini spacecraft is set to end its 13-year mission to Saturn by transmitting data until it plunges into the ringed planet's atmosphere.

Launched in 1997, Cassini arrived in orbit around Saturn in 2004 on a mission to study the giant planet, its rings, moons and magnetosphere.

In addition, embedded virtual screens in the feed will provide a digital simulation of the spacecraft, so that we can all see what Cassini sees as it nears its end. Just a few hours before it entered Saturn's atmosphere, the mission team made Cassini roll a bit, positioning the vehicle's instruments toward the planet while pointing its radio antenna at Earth. After losing contact with Earth, the spacecraft will burn up like a meteor, becoming part of the planet itself. The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), the leading United Kingdom body for astronomy, space science and geophysics, counts among its members many of those involved in the mission, and offers its congratulations to the teams at NASA, ESA, ASI, and around the world, whose efforts saw the spacecraft deliver science from its launch to its destruction. The spacecraft was also slated to send images of hexagon-shaped jet stream around planet's north pole. Even if NASA funds a new Saturn mission in 2019, that spacecraft would launch in 2024 - then it'd take years to make the trip.

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At 12.56 pm United Kingdom time, all radio contact with the 22ft long nuclear-powered probe was lost as Cassini tumbled to its doom 930 miles above Saturn's cloud tops.

"The spacecraft's final signal will be like an echo".

The probe was running low on fuel, and so the 13-year tour of the Saturn system mission had to end.

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The probe transmitted all of its data, including the final images, back to earth. Cassini snapped over 450,000 images during its 20-year voyage.

Every week, Cassini has been diving through the approximately 2,000-kilometre-wide gap between Saturn and its rings. The hitchhiking European Huygens landed on big moon Titan in 2005. It was the only spacecraft to ever orbit Saturn, and showed the world's rings and moons in vivid detail, unveiling oceans on the moons Enceladus and Titan, which could possibly harbor life.

Cassini's well-planned demise is a way of preventing any damage to Saturn's ocean-bearing moons Titan and Enceladus, which scientists want to keep pristine for future exploration because they may contain some form of life.

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Professor Patrick Irwin, whose Oxford University team supplied critical elements of Cassini's Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) instrument, said: 'Cassini/CIRS has provided the underpinning to our planetary research in Oxford, and during its 20-year mission we have grown older, raised families and trained a whole new generation of scientists who have gone on to be worldwide leaders of planetary science in the Europe and the USA.


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