Science

Cassini Begins its Grand Finale

After circling Saturn for 13 years, the Cassini spacecraft will make its first dive into the gap between Saturn and its rings as it enters the final stage of its long mission. Cassini will dip in and out of Saturn’s rings 22 times, each dip in and out (orbit) will bring the spacecraft closer to the surface of the giant planet. Today the first dip happens. If all goes well, Cassini will beam to Earth never seen before images of Saturn and its rings.

Cassini is expected to start sending images it has taken after its first dive by around 3 a.m. ET on Thursday. This first dive is the beginning of what NASA calls Cassini’s Grand Finale.

A few days ago Cassini used the gravity of Titan (one of Saturn’s many moons) to curve its path so that it will eventually be sucked into Saturn and disintegrate into the planet’s atmosphere. Cassini will end its long journey on September and will become part of Saturn’s atmosphere.

In the two decades since its launch in 1997, Cassini has given us so much information about Saturn and its moons. Now, as it nears its end, the world is preparing to see Cassini bid us goodbye in a blaze of glory. On September 15, Cassini, having spent all its fuel, will enter Saturn’s atmosphere and crash. The spacecraft will disintegrate in Saturn’s atmosphere. This end is part of the plan, part of Cassini’s mission. If Cassini doesn’t disintegrate into Saturn’s atmosphere, it runs the risk of contaminating one of Saturn’s moons with debris and potential contaminants it has brought from Earth.

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