Cassini's Holiday Greetings

Cassini’s Holiday Greetings

There is drama inherent in space travel.  A vast nothingness full of danger, harsh conditions and new and changing rules provides all kinds of opportunities for big stories, epic victories, failures and intrigue.  But, in a matter of days, NASA will begin to implement a plan for the end of its Cassini mission that surpasses drama and enters into pure poetry.

The Cassini spacecraft has been in space for 20 years.  It was launched in 1997 and reached its intended orbit around Saturn in 2004.  Its mission to explore the systems of Saturn has made ‘numerous dramatic discoveries, including a global ocean that showed indications of hydrothermal activity within the icy moon Enceladus, and liquid methane seas on its moon Titan.’- NASA.gov

NASA's Cassini spacecraft looks between Saturn's A and B rings to spy structure in the Cassini Division. The Cassini Division, occupying the middle and left of the image, contains five dim bands of ring material, but not all of the division is shown here.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft looks between Saturn’s A and B rings to spy structure in the Cassini Division. The Cassini Division, occupying the middle and left of the image, contains five dim bands of ring material, but not all of the division is shown here.

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Now, Cassini is running out of fuel and it’s on a ‘new’ mission to go where no spacecraft has ever gone… BETWEEN Saturn and its rings.  Starting on April 22nd, Cassini will make a ‘close fly-by’ orbit around the moon, Titan.  Titan’s gravitational pull will bend Cassini’s flight path and sling it between Saturn and its rings.  After that, Cassini will perform a series of dives in that space among space.  As it gets closer to the planet it expected to ‘gain powerful insights into the planet’s internal structure and the origins of the rings, obtain the first-ever sampling of Saturn’s atmosphere and particles coming from the main rings, and capture the closest-ever views of Saturn’s clouds and inner rings.’

On September 15, 2017 Cassini will take a final plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere where it will burn up and become a part of the planet it has been studying for the last 13 years.

Cassini and Saturn will become one.  Poetry.  Beautiful.  Thanks, NASA.

Here’s an animated video from NASA for further awe-inspiring explanation…

Jenny Flack
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