Cassini space probeThe Cassini mission to Saturn is entering its final week. On 15th September in what is called its “Grand Finale”, the Cassini space probe will dive towards the planet and burn up in its atmosphere like a meteor. Launched on 15th October 1997 in a collaboration between NASA, ESA and the Italian space agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, the spacecraft took seven years to travel across the Solar System to reach Saturn. Now, nearly 20 years on, Cassini will complete its mission by plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere. It will continue to beam back data and images until the very end.
All images and video NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI
Cassini flies through spray from Enceladus
Soon after arriving in orbit around Saturn in late 2004, Cassini launched the Huygens lander, which touched down on Saturn’s moon Titan in January 2005. It sent back the first pictures of the moon’s landscape, along with astonishing images of lakes of liquid methane on its surface. Cassini later collected valuable information about the chemical make-up of another of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, after steering through plumes of icy water sprayed into space by geysers erupting from its southern regions. It also detected a global ocean just beneath Enceladus’s icy crust—one that might just contain microbial life-forms.
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