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Cassini meets its end


According to NASA, work the spacecraft is carrying out during its final days includes making "detailed maps of Saturn's gravity and magnetic fields", "vastly [improving] our knowledge of how much material is in the rings, bringing us closer to understanding their origins", "sampling icy ring particles being funneled into the atmosphere by Saturn's magnetic field", and "taking wonderful, ultra-close images of Saturn's rings and clouds". Cassini performed its job well till its end as it sampled the atmosphere of Saturn on Friday morning while making its final plunge. Its delicate thrusters no match for the thickening atmosphere, the spacecraft tumbled out of control during its rapid plunge and burned up like a meteor over Saturn's skies.

"Our spacecraft has entered Saturn's atmosphere, and we have received its final transmission", Nasa said in a tweet. After 13 years of exploring Saturn and its moons, the spacecraft will deliberately plunge at over 75,000 miles per hour into the planet and ultimately be destroyed by the weight and temperature of the atmosphere. It managed to include our planet in some of its best pics of Saturn, like this one taken 900 million miles away from Earth.

As expected, Cassini made its final signal to Earth around 7:55 a.m. EDT.

Cassini, an worldwide project that cost $3.9 billion and included scientists from 27 nations, disintegrated as it dove into Saturn's atmosphere at a speed of 75,000 miles (120,700 kilometers) per hour.

This ends Cassini's 13-year vigil of the ringed plant.

The ESA-built Huygens probe travelled with Cassini and was dropped in 2005 onto Titan, another of Saturn's moons.

When Cassini was launched in 1997, we knew of 18 Saturnian moons. It then began a seven-year mission extension in to observe seasonal changes on Saturn and Titan, while completing many flybys of Saturn's moons. NASA now believes the circled area in the image below is where the spacecraft finally became part of the planet it studied for so long.

This dramatic suicide dive by the Cassini Huygens probe into Saturn is standard disposal procedure for all planetary exploration space probes from NASA.

As Cassini hurtles on towards its death, the program head at NASA - Curt Niebur - is philosophical about the probe's final fate.

One of Cassini's most important discoveries was the existence of a global watery ocean under the icy surface of Enceladus that could conceivably host life.

Check in as we continue to update this post with more of Cassini's greatest discoveries.

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