Cassini's Swan Song: How Saturn Probe Will Spend Its Final Day

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

Cassini Took Its Last Flyby Before Its Death Plunge On Friday

Cassini will then plunge into the planet at a speed of about 70,000 miles per hour. 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.

Even then, Cassini will transmit new data about the planet's composition as long as its antenna remains pointed toward Earth, with the assist from small thrusters.

To mark the impending end of the mission, The Planetary Society released a video of its board member, "Star Trek" actor Robert Picardo, performing the "Le Cassini Opera," a humorous, musical farewell to the spacecraft.

"In these very final seconds, we'll be plunging deeper into Saturn than we ever have before", said Linda Spilker, Cassini's project scientist.

"That will enable sampling instruments, particularly the ion and neutral mass spectrometer, to get data as deep into the atmosphere as Cassini will permit it", he said.

But the far-flung spacecraft will be unceremoniously destroyed when it enters the planet's gaseous atmosphere tomorrow night. During the spring equinox, Cassini could capture the way the sunlight hit Saturn's rings edge-on, allowing researchers to measure the summits of mountains they saw rising from the rings. "Between Voyager and Cassini was 30 years", Green said. It send back some gorgeous snapshots along the way and, now that its extended mission is complete, it's time for the spacecraft to perform the ultimate sacrifice.

"It will fight, it will fight and it will fight", said Earl Maize, Cassini's project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.

Cassini's final chapter began with its last Titan flyby, on Monday (Sept. 11), which gave the probe the nudge it needed to head toward Saturn.

"There's a gentleman on the mission named Dave Doody and he actually built [a paper model] and it's online, so you can go print it out for free and build your own Cassini".

US Spacecraft Cassini Readies for Fiery Plunge Into Saturn After 13-Year Mission
Nasa's Cassini probe ends its 4.9bn-mile mission

The final plunge into Saturn's atmosphere shall occur on the day side of Saturn at local noon time. It astonished scientists by finding conditions potentially suitable for life beneath the surface of one of Saturn's icy moons, Enceladus. And NASA didn't want to risk contaminating the moons or any future studies of the moons with Earth particles.

Since April, the craft has been making a series of dives between the planet and its rings in what NASA has dubbed The Grand Finale.

Cassini's mission has produced a treasure trove of scientific data and mesmerizing images. And surely that will continue with its final dive, she said. For over a decade, Cassini has orbited around Saturn 294 times, collected more than 600 GB of data, visited over a dozen moons and discovered at least seven new ones.

Esposito says Cassini has helped scientists better understand Saturn.

What was the goal of the Cassini mission?

When was Cassini launched and how long did it take to reach Saturn?

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.

During Cassini's thirteen years in orbit around Saturn, it danced among the moons and rings to study the world in unprecedented detail. Cassini has collected 450,000 images using a visible light camera.

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