Published: Sat, September 16, 2017
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

WATCH LIVE as NASA's Cassini spacecraft plunges to its doom

WATCH LIVE as NASA's Cassini spacecraft plunges to its doom

On Friday morning, reports indicated that the Cassini spacecraft committed a "death dive" into Saturn, ending a 13-year-long mission to transmit data about Saturn's composition and makeup, according to CNN.

At around 7:31 AM eastern time, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft disintegrated and plunged into Saturn, becoming the only man-made object ever to touch our solar system's second largest planet. The spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn for 13 years.

The spacecraft is in the process of emptying its onboard solid-state recorder of all science data, prior to reconfiguring for a near-real-time data relay during the final plunge, NASA said.

In fact, no other spacecraft in history has lingered so close to the ringed planet.

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Cassini left earth 20 years ago in in 1997 and travelled eight billion kilometres past Jupiter and Venus before taking up its position in Saturn's orbit. It takes 83 minutes for a signal from the spacecraft to reach Earth.

The spacecraft's final radio communications will be sent to the CSIRO's Deep Space centre, located outside Canberra.

"This has been an incredible mission, an incredible team", Earl Maize, Cassini's program manager, said in mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory once the signal had been lost. On its way through the gas giant's upper atmosphere, Cassini pulsed its thrusters to keep its antennae pointed at Earth in order to transmit scientific data until tis final moments.

The mission's planners knew Cassini would eventually run so low on fuel it would be impossible to control the ship.

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NASA is publishing the final images as Cassini descends on a special website. Scientists feared the craft would collide with Titan or Enceladus, two of Saturn's moons, that have in the past 10 years shown a potential to host life.

Cassini made a total of 22 dives between Saturn and its rings as part of the orbiter's so-called "Grand Finale", which began May 2.

Cassini has also discovered seven new moons, six of which have been named, observed raging storms on Saturn, and shed new light on the planet's famous rings.

For the curious, here's how Cassini's last few minutes are going to go down. Perhaps most tantalizing, ocean worlds were unveiled by Cassini and its hitchhiking companion, the Huygens lander, on the moons Enceladus and Titan, which could possibly harbor life.

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"Cassini has given us a cornucopia of information about Saturn, its rings and its moons", he said.

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