Cassini: NASA’s eye on Saturn

On Tuesday, April 4, NASA will hold a press conference to unveil the beginning of Cassini’s last mission segment, called the Grand Finale.

- After spending nearly two decades in space, NASAs Cassini an unmanned spacecraft sent to study Saturn is ready for its final mission. On Tuesday, April 4, NASA will hold a press conference to unveil the beginning of Cassinis last mission segment, called the Grand Finale. Here's the lowdown:

When was Cassini launched?

Cassini was launched on October 15, 1997. After taking on a voyage passing through the flybys of Earth, Venus and Jupiter, Cassini began orbiting Saturn since June 2004, studying the planet, its rings and its moons.

What does this final mission entail?

A final close flyby of Saturn's moon Titan on April 22 will reshape the Cassini spacecraft's orbit so that it begins its final series of 22 weekly dives through the unexplored gap between the planet and its rings. The first of these dives is planned for April 26. Following these closer-than-ever encounters with the giant planet, Cassini will make a mission-ending plunge into Saturn's upper atmosphere on September 15.

To put it in simpler terms, Cassini will explore areas of Saturn that have been untouched up until this point. It will get the closest look ever at Saturns outer rings.

What has Cassini revealed so far?

Cassinis most detailed look came after landing on Titan, Saturns largest moon, from where it beamed pictures back to earth. It was revealed later that Titan was an earth-like world with rain, rivers, lakes and seas.

Cassini discovered previously unknown moons in orbit within the planet's rings. These include Methone, Pallene, Polydeuces, Daphnis, Anthe and Aegaeon.

One of its most important discovery was Enceladus a frozen moon that shoots out icy jets as it gets warped by Saturns gravity.

The spacecraft made a series of discoveries relating to Saturns rings. Vertical structures in the ring were imaged for the first time.

The Cassini mission has seen several unplanned moves and made several important discoveries. Two significant discoveries among these are a large global ocean beneath the icy cover of Saturn's moon Enceladus and liquid methane on Saturn's largest moon Titan. In fact, the mission's end is carefully being planned so as to not contaminate these pristine environments that hold possibilities of life.<

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