Cassini's Last Adventure
The Cassini spacecraft will soon plunge to its death in Saturn’s toxic clouds.
After twenty years in space, NASA’s Cassini-Huygens mission is coming to an end. But it will go out with one big bang. Launched in 1997 on a billion-mile trek to Saturn, Cassini has transformed our knowledge of the planet, its rings and more than sixty moons. The spacecraft has discovered plumes of water on the moon Enceladus and the European Huygens lander has snapped images of Titan’s surface, revealing riverbeds, lakes and mountains carved by liquid methane. Both moons are possible candidates for life, maybe better candidates than Mars.
Cassini’s fuel light is flashing red and so to protect the moons from accidental contamination, a dramatic ‘grand finale’ has been planned. On 15 September 2017, Cassini will dive into the toxic clouds of Saturn, burning up to become a part of the gas giant itself. The data the spacecraft collects, as it descends to its death, will give new insights into Saturn’s atmosphere and many scientists are even looking forward to its demise.
In Cassini’s Last Adventure, space scientist Professor Lucie Green celebrates the spacecraft’s achievements and discovers how it has changed our views on where to find life elsewhere in the Universe.
Photo: One of the images of Saturn's rings, sent back by the Cassini spacecraft Credit: NASA/JPL