For more than a decade, Cassini has been exploring the 6th planet from the Sun – Saturn. In September, this NASA spacecraft will be ready to end its mission after 13 long years. Cassini Huygens was the first spacecraft ever to revolve around Saturn and on September 15, it will go and dive into the fiery gas giant that is Saturn. Cassini was launched in 2 decades back and it took 7 years to reach Saturn. After that, the spacecraft has reportedly taken about 300 orbits around Saturn. Over the years, Cassini has made some amazing discoveries around the planet and clicked some great pictures. In fact, it has provided the basis for over 4 thousand research papers. But before Cassini takes a dive, let us take a trip to Cassini and know its missions and what it has done over the years.
What did Cassini learn from Saturn? Cassini has closely studied Saturn, one of the most beautiful and mysterious planets to our solar system. NASA researchers have seen Cassini witness seasonal changes on Saturn, including a huge storm. Curt Niebur, a Cassini program scientist, during a NASA press conference, said that Cassini discovered Methane lakes on Titan, Saturn’s moon and oceans on Enceladus, another moon. The spacecraft has shown that how prevalent and common life beyond Earth may truly be. In the last stage, NASA hopes that the spacecraft will now help them in getting an inside out view of Saturn. It has already been diving between the Saturn’s rings and showed us that there is a complicated connection between the planets atmosphere and the rings. A further dive will help us know more about the planet’s atmosphere and the age of its rings.
What is Cassini’s “Grand Finale”? Since the spacecraft was able to collect information from the orbit of Saturn, it was only allowed to reach certain places, in order to stay safe. But now that it is ready to take the plunge, NASA has been making Cassini take a dive regularly, which allowed it to get data and click images from really unique places. The final project began in April this year and until now the spacecraft has been able to send some pictures from angles which have never been seen before.
Why is Cassini’s trip ending? Rocket Fuel. Yes, the spacecraft is running out of it. If it does, NASA will no longer be able to control its movements and it will just float in space. But here is the most interesting part, NASA’s findings have shown that Saturn’s moon Enceladus could have or had a habitable environment. So, it does not want Cassini to accidentally crash there and disrupt a chance for a search by us in the future. It basically means that even microbes on Cassini have the ability to contaminate the moon. So, it is probably safe for the spacecraft to commit suicide on Saturn and also send great photos from inside, as long as it can.