NASA’s incredibly successful Cassini probe has delivered a wealth of information about Saturn and its many moons during its 13+ years hanging around the planet, but all good things must come to an end. An end is exactly what Cassini will experience in September when it burns up in Saturn’s atmosphere, and the craft just began the last phase of its dramatic series of dives that will bring it closer to the planet than it’s ever been before.
Earlier this year, Cassini embarked on what NASA calls its Grand Finale. In its final attempt at gaining scientific knowledge, the spacecraft was sent on an incredible series of increasingly risky dives through Saturn’s rings. Today is the beginning of Cassini’s end, as the probe begins it final five dives, which happen to be the riskiest ones yet.
As Cassini cruises past Saturn, it’s now closer to its surface than ever, and scientists hope that by brushing through the very top of the planet’s atmosphere it can study the chemical makeup of the planet in a way that’s never been possible before.
These final five dives will end with fire for Cassini. At the end of its final pass, Cassini will cruise straight into the planet in a final act of heroism. The spacecraft will be subjected to the full brunt of atmospheric friction, and even as Cassini disintegrates in the inferno, it will send back data until the very last moment. Eventually the probe will be completely destroyed and it will put an end to NASA’s current Saturn mission.