NASA is sending one of its spacecraft crashing into a planet… on purpose!
Cassini will fly close to a giant moon called Titan which will send it on a death-dive into Saturn’s atmosphere, where it will break up.
Cassini first launched in 1997 and reached Saturn in 2004. It never touched-down on the planet but the craft’s aim was to give a close and detailed look at Saturn’s rings and its moons!
In April, NASA manoeuvred Cassini into its final stage, known as the “Grand Finale”!
During 21 week-long orbits, the probe has been gathering some of its most important data yet and will continue to report back to Earth, right up to the moment it crashes.
Saturn’s gravity will eventually drag Cassini into the planet just before midnight on Friday.
Scott Edgington, the deputy project scientist for Cassini, said this:
The navigators have no more manoeuvres to do. We’re guaranteed to go into Saturn, no matter what happens.
NASA are crashing Cassini on-purpose. That’s because they want to precisely control how the spacecraft is destroyed.
If they don’t, the spacecraft could run out of fuel and that could be even more disastrous. It could crash-land on a different planet, or on one of Saturn’s moons, which might endanger conditions for life…
We’re calling it a goodbye kiss. Titan will steal just enough energy from our orbit to send us right into Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15th.
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