Farewell, Friend: NASA's Cassini Locks Itself on Death Course with Saturn

Cassini to dive into Saturn at 113,000 kms per hour

US Spacecraft Cassini Readies for Fiery Plunge Into Saturn After 13-Year Mission

The end is in sight.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is making its final approach to Saturn before it plunges into the planet's atmosphere. On Friday morning, the spacecraft will become a martyr to science as it plunges into Saturn's atmosphere. Within minutes it will vaporise in the cloud tops of the ringed planet after valiantly fighting a battle it has no hope of winning.

On several occasions in Cassini's 294 orbits around Saturn, the ringed gas giant eclipsed the sun giving the spacecraft the ideal opportunity to photograph the planet from a unique angle.

In 2005, it was reported, observations of water jets that shot plumes of ice out of its atmosphere were made.

"The spacecraft's final signal will be like an echo", Earl Maize, Cassini project manager, told CNN.

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"I feel a tremendous sense of pride in all that Cassini has accomplished", Spilker said. Join us in a conversation about world events, the newsgathering process or whatever aspect of the news universe you find interesting or important.

Scientists in Australia will be responsible for controlling the probe's final descent.

With its attractive rings (280,000 km across), impressive size (120,000km diameter at the equator), and extensive number of moons (more than 60), Saturn has always been fascinating. One unexpected discovery came from the south pole of Enceladus, a moon embedded in one of Saturn's rings.

What will happen on Friday when Cassini crashes?

"It got the velocity change it needed, and now it's on its way into Saturn".

On Monday, the craft made a flyby of Titan that slowed it down enough to direct it toward Saturn rather than through the furthest reaches of its atmosphere, as it has been doing. This ESA-built probe delved into the rich atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon Titan, providing the first close look at the complex world. On June 30, 2004, the spacecraft successfully entered the orbit of Saturn carrying the Huygens probe.

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The gas was a sign of hydrothermal activity favorable to life, scientists said in April when they unveiled the finding. "We'll watch it turn away from us". The probe will have execute its death dive at 6:31 a.m. EDT, but the delay and distance between Saturn and Earth won't see the probe's final radio signal arrive for another 83 minutes. "I peripherally followed my father's career through high school and early college but it wasn't actually really until the latter part of my undergraduate college career that I started really becoming more interested in the type of work he did", Jason said. It also revealed that the rings of Saturn are not always stormy or full of dust.

"There was speculation that the moon had something to do with the E Ring", McEwen says.

"Cassini will be giving us information right down to her very last breath of data".

Although most of the spacecraft's instruments are still functioning flawlessly, its fuel tank is empty.

They have set many records and one of them is their planetary encounters that include the discovery of the first active volcanoes beyond Earth - on Jupiter's moon Io - and the most Earth-like atmosphere in the solar system - on Saturn's moon Titan.

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Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL, may have been the by-the-numbers guy in the presentation, but he also waxed poetic after stating that some 635 gigabytes of collected scientific data became part of almost 4,000 scientific papers.

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