Vale, Cassini

NASA photo shows where Cassini entered Saturn’s atmosphere.

NASA’s 20-year Cassini mission ended today when the probe was intentionally sent into the atmosphere of Saturn, destroyed to prevent any risk of contamination of the planet’s moons which will be studied in years to come.

Telemetry received during the plunge indicates that, as expected, Cassini entered Saturn’s atmosphere with its thrusters firing to maintain stability, as it sent back a unique final set of science observations. Loss of contact with the Cassini spacecraft occurred at 4:55 a.m. PDT (7:55 a.m. EDT), with the signal received by NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna complex in Canberra, Australia.


And Bobak Ferdowsi imagines Cassini’s last moments in a touching set of anthropomorphic tweets which begins here:

[Thanks to JJ for the story.]

9 thoughts on “Vale, Cassini

  1. One thing that puzzles me is Cassini being destroyed to protect virgin moons, after Huygens was landed on Titan during this same mission. Has the thinking changed that rapidly?

  2. @Lenore Jones, there’s an ocean of water on Enceladus that is at least theoretically capable of sustaining life and allowing Cassini to die a natural death risked contaminating it. That wasn’t a problem with Titan, because it is not capable of sustaining life as we know it.

    eta the thing I came here to say, which is that I’m strangely touched by the death of Cassini and, really, all it was able to accomplish.

  3. @Cheryl, that makes more sense, although I’ve seen people talking about protecting Titan, too. But that may be story drift. Anyway, thanks.

  4. IIRC, Huygens, like all planetary probes, went through an extensive sterilization and decontamination protocol to avoid contaminating Titan. As an orbiter, Cassini did not have the same procedure applied.

  5. To NASA and the entire mission team: Bravo Zulu!

    I remember a worldcon hall party talking to the woman who lead the propulsion team. There were other team members at the same hall party. Friggin brilliant people. Some of the best money the USA has ever spent. I wonder what the percentage of the team are fans. I would bet over 50%.

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