The NASA spacecraft Cassini is making its way back to earth, which has been the plan for months now, but the sad news is that it won’t survive the trip. Cassini has been on a 13 year mission, and now the spacecraft will be making the plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere. And with that, it will come to a fiery end. During the 13 year mission, Cassini has sent some pretty impressive images from Saturn. What’s kind of neat about this is that this is part of its Grand Finale, which includes 22 spectacular dives through Saturn’s iconic rings. What is kind of funny about this is that the spacecraft is no longer needed, so it’s going to go out in a spectacular fashion.
NASA is actually live streaming the entire Grand Finale. Which seems kind of cruel doesn’t it? Sending Cassini to its death and letting everyone watch it. But that’s kind of the world we live in now, isn’t it? Being able to live stream almost anything at any time. At least in this case, it’s an actually something related to science and space exploration. As opposed to some of the things that we have recently seen on Facebook Live. You know what I’m talking about. NASA’s website will provide an up to the second countdown of the final dive and demonstrates the current distance between Cassini and Saturn.
Once Cassini enters Saturn’s atmosphere, the friction will cause the spacecraft to essentially disintegrate into a raging ball of fire. Which is all part of the plan, because NASA doesn’t want to leave any part of the spacecraft intact. And if it is left intact, it becomes space litter. Cassini has provided us with some pretty incredible photos of Saturn and its moons over the years. And it’s gone above and beyond what it was originally intended to do. So its going to be missed. To back this up a bit, it actually took Cassini seven years to get to Saturn, travelling almost 2.2 billion miles to get there. Which is definitely a number my brain can’t fathom.
Cassini has gotten closer to Saturn than we have ever before. In August of 2009, Cassini was the first probe to take photos up close of an equinox on Saturn. Which is when the Sun’s disc was exactly overhead at the planets equator. Earth is heading into an equinox next week, for those of you who are interested.
Cassini also took a picture of the clouds in Saturn’s northern hemisphere. It was taken with a wide angle camera in July of 206. The camera used filters sensitive to infrared light, which can pick up how sunlight is absorbed or scattered by methane in Saturn’s atmosphere. The photo, which looks like a painting, also has the quality that the best paintings have: every time you look, something new catches your attention.
I find it interesting that NASA is giving this kind of farewell to Cassini. On one hand it seems kind of harsh, but on the other hand, what are they going to do with the spaceship? If they abandon Cassini, it will just float around in the atmosphere for years to come, making it space litter, and a danger for other possible missions. Cassini has been around for a long time, but if you want to check out some photos that Cassini has taken, head over to NASA’s website.