The hard surface of Saturn will be Cassini’s final landing site, officially ending humanity’s ambitious mission to explore this giant and mysterious planet.
On April 26, the US Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) spacecraft Cassini began the final leg of the journey to explore Saturn’s rings.
The unmanned Cassini probe, a collaboration between the United States and Italy, was launched on October 15, 1997 and reached Saturn’s orbit 13 years ago, after passing through Venus and Venus. Carpentry.
Since then, Cassini has flown around Saturn to take photos of the planet’s surface, helping astronomers better understand the planet’s atmosphere, magnetosphere and icy satellites.
After 13 years orbiting Saturn, passing 5.3 billion km deep in space, Cassini is on the verge of running out of fuel and coming to an end. NASA prepares its spaceship for an epic finale.
Cassini’s final performance
On April 26, their probe successfully sank into the mysterious space between Saturn’s rings. Over the next few months, Cassini will fly over this unknown area approximately 22 times.
Along the way, it will gather new data to answer important questions about Saturn’s interior, mysterious storms, the age of the rings and the length of a day.
It was the glorious end after a long journey. Eventually, the spacecraft will plunge into Saturn, where it will be “evaporated” within minutes amid the planet’s harsh atmosphere.
“We will do our best to cross a unique area that no spacecraft has ever crossed,” said Thomas Zurbuchen of the Scientific Mission Executive Board at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC.
“What is achieved from the final Cassini orbit will help us better understand giant planets and how planetary systems form and evolve everywhere. It really is a last minute expedition, ”he said.
In the past, space explorers were reluctant to explore this area of the Saturn system because it was so dangerous.
At Cassini’s travel speed, even a small particle of dust can damage the meter. The narrow region between the belt and Saturn is believed to be free of dust, but this theory may also be wrong. This is what the Cassini instruments will testify.
During the first “dive”, Cassini used his large antenna disc as a shield to protect the devices. A 97% success rate, but only 3% of the risk, also made NASA scientists insecure.
“We will never risk doing this at any time other than the final stages of the mission,” said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at the Jet Engine Laboratory (JPL) in California, said.
Human history on Saturn
The spacecraft arrived in the Saturn system in July 2004 and has since collected data on the planet, its satellites, and its rings. However, there are still fundamental questions about Saturn that remain unanswered.
Scientists, for example, believe there is a rock below the planet’s atmosphere, but the size of the rock remains a mystery.
“Earth 764 can integrate with Saturn,” said Linda Spilker, Project Cassini scientist at JPL. “So imagine a single Earth with 764 times its mass,” says Spilker.
Knowing the mass of the nucleus will help scientists determine the mass of Saturn’s rings. Thanks to this, they can determine their age.
“If the rings are bigger than expected, they could be as old as Saturn because they have masses large enough to withstand the bombardment and erosion of small asteroids. On the other hand, if they have a smaller mass, they can be very young and formed only around 100 million years ago, ”Spilker said.
The data collected during this conclusion can help solve remaining mysteries, including the makeup of Saturn’s atmosphere, the depth below the planet’s surface, and the rotational speed of the central region.
The new data could also help researchers better understand the bizarre hexagonal vortex in Saturn’s north pole.
Additionally, Cassini will also return images of Saturn and the rings at the highest resolution ever.
Although the Cassini mission team eagerly awaits the ship’s next performance. “We, humanity, through this mission, have been following Saturn for 13 years. Unfortunately, there will be no mission to replace him for a long time, ”said Maize. “Either way, it was a trip of a lifetime,” he said with emotion.
Cassini will complete the mission on September 15. This means that the ship has 142 days left from the start of its “fall” on Saturn until it is completely burned down, officially ending the man’s ambitious mission in one of the corners. the most mysterious in the galaxy.