PASADENA (CBSLA.com) — Radio silence signaled the end of a 20-year mission.
The Cassini spacecraft plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere at about 70,000 miles per hour Friday morning and vaporized into the planet it has studied for the past 13 years.
The project manager monitoring Cassini’s signal at Jet Propulsion Laboratory said that with the loss of Cassini’s signal, just before 5 a.m., the spacecraft would be gone within seconds.
“I hope you’re all as deeply proud of this amazing accomplishment. Congratulations to you all,” he said, before calling it the end of mission.
The spacecraft, which was built by the European Space Agency and whose mission was managed by JPL for NASA, was launched in 1997 and reached the ringed planet in 2004. It has been in the “Grand Finale” of its scientific mission since April, when it shifted its orbit closer to the planet. In mid-August, Cassini began a series of 22 passes through Saturn’s upper atmosphere.
The close flybys allowed Cassini to take high-resolution images and collect data on Saturn’s auroras, temperature and vortexes at the planet’s poles.
The mission’s most remarkable discovery was water — but not on the planet.
“It’s really the discovery of liquid water oceans under the surface of two of Saturn’s moons,” project science engineer Jo Pitesky said.
The discovery has, in essence, expanded scientists’ horizons for where they could look for life in the solar system.
“We always thought planets were the main show. The moons could be that instead,” she said.
Cassini moved closer to its demise Monday by zipping past Saturn’s moon Titan, a pass that shifted the spacecraft’s trajectory and sent it on a path into Saturn’s atmosphere – a close encounter called a “goodbye kiss.”
Since that flyby, Cassini has been hurtling toward Saturn, taking its final photos and gathering its final data.