How Cassini Will Begin Its Date With Death on Saturn

Dec 6, 2016

By Dennis Overbye

It’s the beginning of a spectacular, almost circuslike end for NASA’s Cassini mission. For 12 years Cassini has been buzzing about Saturn, its rings and its moons. As a result we know that there are methane lakes on Titan and jets of water shooting from Enceladus, and the rings themselves have warps, ripples, hills twists and braids.

Now the Cassini spacecraft has gradually shifted into an orbit that takes it over the planet’s north and south poles and then down into a series of increasingly vertiginous-looking dives perpendicular to the plane of its buttery glowing rings.

Starting on Wednesday, as shown here, with a gravitational nudge from the moon Titan, Cassini is set to commence a series of 20 dives just outside the outer edge of the main ring system. Along the way the spacecraft will try to sample ring particles and gases that live there in its vicinity, and pass only 56,000 miles above Saturn’s cloud tops.


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3 comments on “How Cassini Will Begin Its Date With Death on Saturn

  • Now that the Cassini probe is reaching the end of its life, – as its attitude control jets run out of fuel, they are seeking new data while it is still operational, by embarking on the risky moves of flying through the rings, where impacts could destroy the probe.

    @OP link – Science will never be the same.

    Despite great discoveries from this mission, I think that comment is hype!

    Nor will Saturn, now forever polluted by a few stray atoms from the blue planet. Thereafter, there will always be a little piece of Earth on Saturn.

    The purpose of crashing on to the planet, is to avoid the possibility of contaminating the moons (which may harbour life under their icy surfaces) with organic matter or bugs from Earth, by crashing elsewhere!



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  • Surely any contamination would be minimal, given that life, if it exists on the moons of Saturn, would be far more adapted to its environment, so that any organic matter coming from Earth would be a tasty morsel, easily consumed and then forgotten.



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  • billzfantazy #2
    Dec 11, 2016 at 8:15 pm

    Surely any contamination would be minimal, given that life, if it exists on the moons of Saturn, would be far more adapted to its environment, so that any organic matter coming from Earth would be a tasty morsel, easily consumed and then forgotten.

    I think the question regarding both the icy moons and Mars, is: IF life exists there.

    If we contaminate these with Earth organisms, it could be very hard to tell if endemic life had evolved there, and what the implications are for the likelihood of extraterrestrial life being found more generally in the galaxy and the universe.

    Earth life could also mess up the chemistry of the geological record on these bodies, and make future conclusive investigations impossible.



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