The Cassini probe had been planned to study the Saturn system until 2008, but the mission was given two extensions that stretched its lifetime into 2017. According to the federal space agency, it lost contact with Cassini at 7:55 am EDT, with the final signal from the spacecraft received by NASA's Deep Space Network antenna complex in Canberra, Australia. NASA's revolutionary Cassini spacecraft astonishingly discovered the presence of liquid water as well as active Chemistry on Titan and Enceladus thus hinting towards the possibility of life on those moons.
As of this morning, the Cassini spacecraft is no more.
The Saturn Probe Interior and Atmosphere Explorer would slowly descend by parachute, take readings of the planet's atmosphere and its dark interior, lasting all of 90 minutes after a several year's long voyages to the planet.
In fact, Cassini's fatal plunge into Saturn was made to prevent the spacecraft from potentially infecting Saturn's moons with Earth bacteria, which might upset the extraterrestrial ecology or even wipe out undiscovered life.
Titan, in particular, has proven especially intriguing, and in many ways familiar.
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It has a thick atmosphere that interacts with the surface, she says, and something very much like Earth's hydrological cycle, only with hydrocarbons instead of water. Mission concepts under consideration include spacecraft to drift on the methane seas of Titan and fly through the Enceladus plume to collect and analyze samples for signs of biology.
Cassini had been investigating Saturn and its moons since 2004 as part of a £2.5bn project which has unearthed a treasure trove of discoveries. At a speed of 76,000 miles per hour, Cassini will melt and vaporize in a moment's notice, forever melding it with Saturn. "Cassini is becoming now a part of Saturn, and it's the ideal ending point", Alonge said. We're going into a region we could have never explored before. "So yeah, just don't worry about it".
"Cassini has transformed our thinking in so many ways, but especially with regard to surprising places in the solar system where life could potentially gain a foothold", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington. Well NASA and ESA, both are actually sending probes in the next decade to the ice moons of Jupiter.
Correction: Saturn is nearly 750 million miles from Earth, not 750 billion miles, as originally stated in this article.
But Saturn has an allure like no other planet, and scientists are already cooking up plans to get a craft back there.