Cassini is in the process of taking its final pictures of the Saturnian system. Finally, they get to move on. With the end of Cassini, there is no other mission now operating or under development to visit Saturn or its moons.
"The world will be watching and waiting for that bittersweet moment when NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) mission control announces "loss of signal", and we'll know that Cassini's final call home has been made". It doesn't help that NASA's social media team insists on having it behave like a semi-sentient entity on Twitter.
Cassini has run out of fuel.
Cassini will send back data for as long as possible before it burns up.
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The final images will be taken on September 14 and are planned to include images of Titan, Enceladus, moonlet "Peggy", a propeller feature in the rings and a color montage of Saturn and its rings, including the aurora at the north pole. Cassini successfully sailed through the gap 22 times, providing ever better close-ups of Saturn.
In the end, Cassini will have witnessed half of a Saturn year. "And the finale has gone so smoothly it's downright spooky". Still, the 5,000-pound Cassini, dubbed Battlestar Galactica by another expert on the documentary for all the scientific instruments it contains, also added to our knowledge of Saturn's many moons, which range in size from larger than the planet Mercury to the size of a sports arena. During its time, Cassini discovered six new moons as well as new rings.
Cassini's final dive will end a mission that provided groundbreaking discoveries that included seasonal changes on Saturn, the moon Titan's resemblance to a primordial Earth, and a global ocean on the moon Enceladus with ice plumes spouting from its surface. And though it has answered many questions, it has raised hundreds more. Some are surprisingly simple, like pinning down exactly how long Saturn's day is. "We're going to fly it into Saturn and it will be just quick and just like a meteor going into the Earth's atmosphere". "It's one of the things we expected to learn, but have not".
In addition, Cassini carried a smaller European Space Agency probe, Huygens, created to land on Titan. Few would have suspected Titan would be teeming with complex organic molecules-not all that dissimilar from the building blocks of life.
"Previously, we saw thunderstorms in Titan's southern hemisphere when it was summer there", he says, "and because it's now the northern summer solstice, we are hoping to see cloud activity and perhaps thunderstorms in the northern hemisphere". "But now, that's exactly what we're talking about doing".
"Landing on Titan revealed a cold, but surprisingly Earth-like landscape, shaped by the flow of methane rather than water, and the icy volcanoes of Enceladus hint at a habitat for life below its frozen surface".
How did scientists communicate with Cassini?