New Delhi: On Friday, September 15, 2017 – 20 years after its launch – NASA bid a teary, bittersweet farewell to one of its most historic missions.
The Cassini spacecraft, that spent 13 long and fruitful years orbiting Saturn and its moons, performed its death plunge into the planet's atmosphere and combusted like a meteor moments later.
Preparing the ground work for many future deep space explorations, Cassini has provided scientists with a wealth of information and science.
"It's a bittersweet, but fond, farewell to a mission that leaves behind an incredible wealth of discoveries that have changed our view of Saturn and our solar system, and will continue to shape future missions and research," said Michael Watkins, director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, which manages the Cassini mission for the agency. JPL also designed, developed and assembled the spacecraft.
As planned, data from eight of Cassini's science instruments was beamed back to Earth. Mission scientists will examine the spacecraft's final observations in the coming weeks for new insights about Saturn, including hints about the planet's formation and evolution, and processes occurring in its atmosphere, NASA said.
"Things never will be quite the same for those of us on the Cassini team now that the spacecraft is no longer flying," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at JPL. "But, we take comfort knowing that every time we look up at Saturn in the night sky, part of Cassini will be there, too.""Cassini may be gone, but its scientific bounty will keep us occupied for many years,” Spilker said. “We've only scratched the surface of what we can learn from the mountain of data it has sent back over its lifetime."
With that, NASA also released a montage of images, made from data obtained by Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, which shows the location on Saturn where the NASA spacecraft entered the planet's atmosphere before it self-destructed.
The spacecraft entered the atmosphere at 9.4 degrees north latitude, 53 degrees west longitude.
Check it out below:
(Image courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)