Last adventure ahead for NASA's Cassini spacecraft at Saturn

Last adventure ahead for NASA's Cassini spacecraft at Saturn

A new image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows planet Earth as a point of light between the icy rings of Saturn.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which is in orbit around Saturn for almost 13 year, will be marking the end of the 20-year-long journey.

"There's a sense of loss", Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL, said earlier this month at a NASA press conference. It's treacherous territory. A particle from the rings - even as small as a speck of sand - could cripple Cassini, given its velocity.

This makes the flyby the transition between the ring-grazing orbits the spacecraft has been conducting since November 30, 2016, and the Grand Finale in which it will conduct 22 dives between the rings and the planet.

Cassini will dive into Saturn on 15th September 2017 after its life of 20 years.

Cassini left the Earth in October of 1997, and reached Saturn in 2004, where it carried on its mission and garnered mounds upon mounds of information about Saturn and its moons including the possibility of Titan having electric sand, and returning the closest photos of Saturn's moon, Pan.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is heading toward the gateway to its Grand Finale. There will be no turning back once it flies past Titan, and embark on a new path around Saturn.

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On Saturday, Cassini will pull on the gravitational "elastic band" one more time, to shift its orbit from one that grazes the outer edge of Saturn's main ring system to one that skims the inner edge and puts it just 2,000km above the planet's cloud tops.

"We now know that Enceladus has nearly all of the ingredients that you would need to support life as we know it on Earth", she said at a NASA news conference.

To Cassini will go the credit for discovering what many astronomers think is the most likely place to find evidence of life beyond Earth. Unfortunately, these lakes and oceans aren't made of water but methane and ethane, which exist as gases on Earth, but are cooled into liquids on Titan. While we may be an insignificant spec of cosmic dust, we've done an OK job of hanging in there.

Cassini will have the best views ever of Saturn's poles, as it skims its surface.

"Imagine the pictures we're going to get back of Saturn's rings", Spilker said.

NASA and its spectacular space hardware often spend so much time checking out our planetary neighbors that we forget Earth offers some pretty cool photo ops as well.

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