Cassini Spacecraft Gets A 'Goodbye Kiss' Before It Meets Its End


When the spacecraft arrived at Saturn in 2004, the planet's northern hemisphere, seen at the top here, was in darkness, just beginning to emerge from winter.

"Cassini has been in a long-term relationship with Titan, with a new rendezvous almost every month for more than a decade", said Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

But NASA didn't call Cassini's final flyby a "goodbye kiss" just to be cheeky.

The final targets - all repeats - include big moon Titan and little moon Enceladus, one or both of them potentially harboring life; tiny moonlets embedded in Saturn's rings; and one final color montage of Saturn and its rings.

Because the probe has so little fuel left, scientists made a decision to end the mission this way to avoid the spacecraft someday impacting one of Saturn's moons, at least two of which are potentially habitable for microbes. Cassini will burn up like a meteor in Saturn's sky. Many of these discoveries were made possible by the Huygens probe, which Cassini carried from Earth and released to descend onto the planet in 2005.

Scientists think both moons may be capable of supporting life.

The giant planet's north pole hosts unusual, hexagon-shaped jet streams found nowhere else in the solar system.

In fact, Saturn icy moon, one of the Cassini biggest revelations includes unveiling Enceladus and the fact that it has numerous components needed for life.

Cassini's 22 Grand Finale dives between Saturn and its rings have revealed surprising features.

The probe passed within 75,000 miles (120,000km) of the moon's surface on Monday.

Cassini data revealed Saturn's largest moon, Titan, has liquid methane oceans on its surface, lying underneath a thick nitrogen-rich atmosphere.

One day before impacting Saturn, Cassini will conduct high-resolution observations of the planet's temperature, auroras, and vortices, take closeup images of the north pole hexagonal jet stream, and image Titan and Enceladus.