The Cassini spacecraft is no more. After a twenty-year voyage through space, the craft lost contact with NASA around 5:00 this morning, after plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere. It had been planned for months however, as there were only a few drops of fuel left. We reached out to the Canadian Astronomical Society’s Paul Delaney in his York University office today, to ask: why couldn’t we have just left it floating out there. He says we didn’t want to make a mess for someone else to clean up.
The craft continued transmitting right into the atmosphere, sending back data until it couldn’t send anymore, completing a 13-year mission Delaney says wasn’t supposed to last that long.
But in those thirteen years, Delaney says Cassini changed the way we look at the ringed gas giant.
The last image Cassini sent back is posted below, courtesy NASA:
“This monochrome view is the last image taken by the imaging cameras on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. It looks toward the planet’s night side, lit by reflected light from the rings, and shows the location at which the spacecraft would enter the planet’s atmosphere hours later.”