Cassini's grand finale: Orbiter plunges into Saturn's atmosphere

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The $3.2 billion Cassini-Huygens mission came to an end on Friday when the orbiter took a suicidal dive into Saturn's atmosphere. Cassini-Huygens mission, a joint effort of NASA, European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency, was launched in October 1997.

The suicidal plunge marked the end of an eight billion kilometre journey that began at Cape Canaveral in Florida in 1997 and took Cassini around Venus and Jupiter en route Saturn's orbit.

Cassini-Huygens was an unmanned robotic spacecraft sent to Saturn to study the planet and its many natural satellites. Huygens was a lander while Cassini was the orbiter which entered Saturn's orbit in 2004. The two space crafts were named after astronomers Giovanni Cassini and Christiaan Huygens.

Cassini mission in numbers

Cassini mission in numbers

Cassini's discoveries have fundamentally reshaped scientists' understanding of Saturn, and of the solar system's life-hosting potential.

Cassini's instruments

Cassini's instruments

Eight of Cassini's science instruments are planned to be turned on during the final plunge, including the Ion and neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS).

Milestones in Cassini's final dive toward Saturn

Milestones in Cassini's final dive toward Saturn

The planned path of Cassini probe was a sort of spiral in which it first goes past Venus and spirals out towards Jupiter, where a manoeuvre hurled it towards Saturn.

Cassini orbiter

Cassini orbiter

Teams from seventeen countries were responsible for designing, building, flying and collecting data from the Cassini orbiter and Huygens probe.

Graphical representation of Cassini approaching Saturn

Graphical representation of Cassini approaching Saturn

On December 25, 2004, Huygens separated from the orbiter, and it landed on Saturn's moon Titan on January 14, 2005. It successfully returned data to Earth, using the orbiter as a relay.

(Images credit - www.jpl.nasa.gov)

The primary mission for Cassini was completed on July 30, 2008. The mission was extended to June 2010 (Cassini Equinox Mission). This studied the Saturn system in detail during the planet's equinox, which happened in August 2009. On February 3, 2010, NASA announced another extension for Cassini, lasting 6.5 years until 2017.

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