Cassini 'GoodBye Kiss' for Titan

A rendering of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft entering Saturn’s atmosphere.    
   Image NASA

This extended stay has permitted observations of the long-term variability of the planet, moons, rings and magnetosphere, observations not possible from short, flyby-style missions.

"Cassini has been in a long-term relationship with Titan, with a new rendezvous almost every month for more than a decade", said Earl Maize, the Cassini project manager at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the United States. This lowers the altitude of its flight over the planet so the spacecraft goes too deep into Saturn's atmosphere to survive, because friction with the atmosphere will cause Cassini to burn up.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft made its final flyby of Saturn's giant moon Titan Monday, four days before its scheduled plunge into the planet.

NASA will be extracting every last detail of data from Cassini as it disappears forever above one of the Earth's most recognisable - and now less mysterious - neighbours. Join NASA engineers for the tense and triumphant moments as they find out if their gambit has paid off, and discover the wonders that Cassini has revealed over the years. These could contaminate the habitable moons and be wrongly identified by future missions as life indigenous to those worlds.

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

Among Cassini's major findings are the potential habitability of Saturn moons Enceladus and Titan.

In the mission Grand Finale, the fateful spacecraft dive is the final beat, 22 weekly dives through the gap within Saturn and its rings.

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

On the much larger Titan, Cassini and its Huygens lander observed lakes of ethane and methane and atmospheric clouds.

Cassini's revelations about Titan have been some of the most significant discoveries in the entire mission.

Radio contact with Earth will be lost within approximately two minutes of the probe's entrance into Saturn's atmosphere.

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