Saturn’s Cassini Orbiter (1982-2017)

Earth/Saturn size comparison. Image: NASA
On Friday, Cassini will vaporize itself in Saturn’s skies.

By Becky Ferreira | MOTHERBOARD

The Cassini orbiter is ready to die. Nearly 20 years after it departed Earth, and 13 years after it arrived at Saturn, the workhorse spacecraft is nearly spent. Its fate was orbitally sealed on Monday, when it flew by Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, for one last gravity assist. Mission leads dubbed this Cassini’s „goodbye kiss.“

It was also a kiss of death, as Titan swung Cassini towards its final destination. On Friday at around 6:32 AM ET, the spacecraft will plunge into the ringed gas giant. It will radio back data for as long as possible, capturing a taste of Saturn’s atmosphere and the closest visuals of the planet humankind has ever witnessed, before it meteorically vaporizes in the skies, a dramatic end to its tenure as the most productive interplanetary orbiter in decades.

„There isn’t anything like Cassini,“ Jonathan Lunine, a planetary scientist who has worked on Cassini-Huygens from its inception, told me at his Cornell University office in Ithaca, New York. „Now, it’s going to be in my mental rearview mirror. It’s going to be a strange feeling.“

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