Since past few decades, different space agencies in different parts of the world have been doing research and carrying out different missions to find possibilities of life on several planets and their satellites moving in the solar system. One such mission was the Cassini-Huygens mission (commonly addressed as Cassini mission), which came to an end on Friday, 15th of September 2017 at 7:55:46 am Eastern Time. NASA received last transmission from the probe at the above mentioned time before it hurtled into Saturn’s atmosphere and broke apart 45 seconds after the last transmission. As per the space agency Cassini was nearly out of fuel and already been stretched years beyond its intended mission duration, hence the agency took it down by making it enter the thick Saturn atmosphere to avoid contamination to any of the moons of the planet which may offer potential habitability.
The $3.26 billion mission was a collaboration between the NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) intended to send a probe to study the planet Saturn, its rings, its system and its natural satellites. It was launched aboard a Titan IVB, Cape Canaveral on October 15, 1997. Its whole life span was of 19 years with 13 years spent orbiting the Saturn. The mission was managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in United States where the orbiter was assembled. Throughout its life span Cassini provided vital information which will change the idea of humans about the Saturn and its natural satellites. Till it’s very last moment it was doing scientific investigation, as it sent some vital information regarding the composition of Saturn’s atmosphere when it entered the planet’s atmosphere during its fiery grand finale.
Cassini was named after 17th century astrologer Giovanni Cassini. Cassini and the Huygens probe (which was dropped down on one of Saturn’s moon Titan) made several discoveries together. In its 19 years life span, and 13 year revolution around Saturn, its rings and its moons, Cassini made very important discoveries that can change our understanding about Saturn. The probe took breathtaking images of the ringed planet revealing hexagonal clouds and swirling storms near its North Pole, discovered several new moons of the planet, which includes 53 named and 9 unnamed ones. It discovered several other smaller objects some which are parts of the planet’s rings which may be claimed as moon in coming future.
On Titan, Earth-like geographical features were discovered by Cassini and Huygens along with huge lakes of natural gas and great clouds which rains methane which flows in rivers. Also on Enceladus, another moon of Saturn, Cassini discovered an Underground Ocean which might contain hydrothermal vents, similar to the geothermal vents of the Earth’s ocean and hence may possess right ingredients and condition to support life.
“Enceladus may have all the ingredients for life — as we know it — to currently exist,” Curt Niebur, a Cassini program scientist, told reporters at a recent press conference. The discovery of the ocean “changed our idea that ocean worlds — like Earth and Europa — are rare in the universe,” he said.
“Congratulations to you all. This has been an incredible mission, an incredible spacecraft, and you’re all an incredible team. I’m going to call this the end of mission. I hope you’re all deeply proud of this amazing accomplishment”, said Earl Mayer the project manager while addressing the project team after end of the mission.
After this very successful mission, NASA’s next big effort is the Europa Clipper, which will be launched in 2020s. Its goal is to investigate Jupiter’s ice moon. Cassini was first of its kind to reach the ringed planet and its natural satellite and do a detailed scientific analysis of the planet and its condition. Also post its farewell, it will be the first human made product whose parts would have landed on Saturn.
Cheers to science for this great achievement from the combined efforts of the space agencies.
Thank you and RIP Cassini.
We will miss you.
Image Courtesy – NASA.