Marking yet another date in the history of astronomy, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has entered the final leg of what it calls ‘The Grand Finale’ of the Saturn Mission. At this final stage, the spacecraft will be seen entering planet’s rings 22 times over the coming months before it enters the planet’s atmosphere. To commemorate this momentous occasion, Google has quickly put up a simple, yet animated, doodle on its homepage. The doodle celebrates the journey of the nearly 20-year-old spacecraft in the space.
To recap, the Cassini spacecraft was launched in space nearly 20 years ago from Cape Canaveral in the US, in 1997. It reached Saturn’s orbit in July 2004 and has been studying the planet and its moons ever since. The spacecraft made its 127th and final close approach to Titan last week on April 21 and sent back a beautiful new picture of the Earth, as seen from Saturn’s rings. According to NASA’s website, which has been closely tracking the spacecraft’s journey, “Cassini will leap over the planet’s icy rings and begin a series of 22 weekly dives between the planet and the rings” after a final close flyby of Titan.
Once Cassini spacecraft covers the 2,400-kilometre long stretch, it will transition into its grand finale orbit – which will then notice a close flyby of Saturn’s largest moon Titan. Then, as noted by NASA, the Titan’s gravity will bend Cassini’s flight and cause its orbit to shrink until it passes between the planet and the inner edges of its rings. From there, the spacecraft is expected to plunge through the skies on September 15, marking the official termination of the mission.
The whole mission will let scientists and researchers learn more about the origins, mass, and age of Saturn’s rings, as well as the long heard mysteries around the gas giant’s interior. The spacecraft has also sent images of Earth as well as Saturn, adding to NASA’s photo gallery.
As of now, the probe has discovered that Saturn’s moons are among the most hospitable places in the Solar System for supporting life. Recently, NASA also announced that Cassini had detected chemical reactions happening below the icy surface of Enceladus, suggesting a possibility of life there. Enceladus is the sixth-largest moon of Saturn. The mission also found that the moon ‘Titan’ contains many earth-like features such as wind, rain and seas. ALSO READ: Sands of Saturn’s moon Titan are electrically charged: Study
Cassini is a joint mission carried out between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Italian space agency (ASI).