For those who've followed NASA's Cassini mission these past 20 years, it's still a bit hard to believe it's gone. On Friday, September 15, the spacecraft plunged itself into Saturn's atmosphere, becoming part of the planet it had studied tirelessly for 13 years. While Cassini's mission is over, there's plenty of data and imagery from it to inspire us for years to come, including the last photo the spacecraft ever took.
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Saturn is a fascinating planet, and the Cassini spacecraft has allowed us to view its beauty up close for the last 20 years.
That ends tonight, when Cassini says goodbye, plunging into Saturn's atmosphere. The incredible thing is, we will be receiving images in real-time, the entire time. So we will witness this event, frame by frame.
Here's how to see all the images as Cassini approaches Saturn for the last time.
On Friday night, NASA's Cassini spacecraft will end its 20 year mission exploring Saturn by entering the giant planet's atmosphere - beaming back as much science as possible to the CSIRO team at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex - before it meets its firey doom.
Gizmodo will be there on the ground with the CSIRO/NASA teams in Canberra to bid our final farewell, and in the days leading up to the event space nerds from around the country have penned statements in honour of the spacecraft's service to humanity.
Here's what those who know Cassini best have to say.
On September 15, Cassini's 20-year-long exploration of the Saturnian system will finally — regrettably — come to an end. But even in its final act, the spacecraft has been sending back some of the most detailed images it's ever taken. In one of its recent dives into the gap between Saturn and its rings, the spacecraft took a sequence of photos that offer an striking and unusual view of Saturn's main rings — and now it's a mini-movie.
Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is kind of like what you'd expect if Salvador Dali designed a planet. It has methane lakes, electrically charged sand, and allegedly, an ocean hiding under its crust. While the Cassini and Huygens spacecraft have revealed some of these mysteries to us, so many lingering questions about this weirdo moon remain.
The ending of NASA's Cassini mission is a truly intoxicating cocktail of emotions; on one hand, the data from this 20-year-long mission will fuel scientific research for years to come. On the other hand, where are we going to get our regular updates on everyone's favourite gas giant? What about the photos? Seriously, our Saturn-induced FOMO is about to skyrocket.
Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is a giant nightmare beach. While its electrically charged sand wouldn't make for a relaxing holiday, new research suggests the planet might not be as hostile to robotic visitors as we think. Although its lakes are full of ultra-cold liquid methane and ethane, they could be placid enough for future space probe to land on. Still not great for swimming, though.
You think you have it rough because you spent the weekend eating tequila-soaked watermelon? That's Just Juice compared to what Saturn's moon Enceladus has been steeping itself in. Astronomers have spotted the organic molecule methanol surrounding the icy moon. Methanol, in case you forgot, is a highly toxic form of alcohol that can literally leave you blind — but after millions of years, we'd wager Enceladus' tolerance is pretty high.
Cassini's last hurrah has been so bittersweet: On the one hand, it marks the end of a 20-year-long journey to explore Saturn and its moons. But the Grand Finale has also featured some of the most spectacular shots of the gas giant and its moons ever taken. It's a complex cocktail of emotions.
Enceladus is having a moment: Ever since NASA announced it had all the basic ingredients to support life, people have become interested in the unusual Saturnian moon. In addition to hiding a warm subterranean ocean beneath its crust, Enceladus produces enough energy from its hydrothermal vents that could hypothetically support alien microbes. To add another layer of weirdness to this strange world, new research suggests Enceladus may have tipped over long ago.
Cassini's six-month-long Grand Finale mission has become the unofficial nerd Super Bowl: each time the NASA-led spacecraft drops a new batch of raw images, we jump to our computers and frantically scroll through to find the best. (Actually, we never leave our computers, because we are nerds.) But in any case, the raw photos from Cassini's second dive into the gap between Saturn and its rings are now available — and honestly, they might even be better than the first round.
Today, Cassini prepares to once again boldly go where no spacecraft has gone before: into the gap between Saturn and its rings. While we're all excited to see the the results of Cassini's second dive, astronomers are still parsing through the findings from her first. And some, including a soundscape generated from the emptiness, are pretty freaky.
Earth is exhausting — excruciatingly so, if you're a young curmudgeon like me. At times, performing even the most mundane tasks, like commuting on a crowded, smelly subway car, feels like an Olympic marathon designed to test one's patience. Space compels us because it forces us to think outside this myopic view of ourselves — not in a "Dust in the Wind" way, but in the sense that we're tiny flecks of star stuff lucky to be members of something so vast and incredible.
Image Cache: Sometimes, the majesty of the final frontier — a cold, unfeeling space — has the power to make our eyes misty. The images from NASA's Cassini mission have often been able to do this, and since the spacecraft is dying soon, it makes the experience all the more emotional. Before it goes out in a blaze of glory, Cassini has been sending back some of the most incredible images of Saturn and its moons — but one of its latest from Saturn's rings is especially spectacular.
Saturn's moon Enceladus features a warm subterranean ocean covered in ice. In an extraordinary new finding, scientists have confirmed the existence of a chemical energy source within this moon's water that's capable of sustaining living organisms here on Earth. Enceladus is now officially the best place beyond Earth to look for life.
Saturn is having a moment. Today, NASA announced that one of its moons, Enceladus, has the key ingredients to support microbial life. Around the same time, NASA's Cassini spacecraft dropped some jaw-dropping images of another one of Saturn's quirky moons, and while this one may not have a subterranean ocean, it sure is an adorable little pasta.