NASA's Cassini Spacecraft Gets Opera Send-off

Cassini to End 20-Year Mission With Fiery Crash

Nasa's Saturn probe Cassini is ending its twenty year mission by plummeting into the atmosphere of the second-biggest planet in the solar system and burning up in its atmosphere. In April of this year, Cassini began the final phase of its mission, called its Grand Finale - a daring series of 22 weekly dives between the planet and its rings.

An illustration of the Cassini probe flying over Saturn.NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute; Kevin M. Gill/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)With just hours left before its meteoric doom in the clouds of Saturn, NASA's Cassini probe on Thursday sent its final batch of photos to planet Earth.

NASA's flagship mission to Saturn has captivated the world, reinvigorating the wonder that only space exploration can bring-the possibility of life beyond Earth, the enormity of the firmament and our place within it.

"Our spacecraft has entered Saturn's atmosphere, and we have received its final transmission", it tweeted, three minutes before 2pm SAST.

The Cassini space probe has completed its 20-year mission with a fiery crash into the hostile atmosphere of Saturn.

The spacecraft's grand finale began at around 11:30am Irish time with the final pieces of data landing on earth 83 minutes later.

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The spacecraft's dive to the planet is the final step of the mission, which was to take pictures and collect key information about its environment.

On Friday, as the long-running Cassini mission at Saturn came to a close, mission managers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California couldn't help but get a little teary as they said goodbye to a spacecraft that had been in space for two decades.

Named after the Italian-French astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, who discovered Saturn's rings, one of the Cassini space probe's objectives was to determine the three-dimensional structure and dynamic behaviour of the rings. "Every time we see Saturn in the night sky, we'll remember". Scientists feared the craft would collide with Titan or Enceladus, two of Saturn's moons, that have in the past 10 years shown a potential to host life.

NASA is publishing the final images as Cassini descends on a special website. Cassini is expected to send its last data to Earth at 7:03 a.m. Perhaps most tantalizing, ocean worlds were unveiled by Cassini and its hitchhiking companion, the Huygens lander, on the moons Enceladus and Titan, which could possibly harbor life.

Check in as we continue to update this post with more of Cassini's greatest discoveries.

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