Cassini 'GoodBye Kiss' for Titan

Scientists prepare for fiery grand finale of Cassini space mission

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is headed toward its September 15 plunge into Saturn, following a final, distant flyby of the planet's giant moon Titan.

Nearly everything we know today about the attractive giant ringed planet comes from Cassini, the NASA mission that launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004.

NASA is hoping for scientific dividends up until the end.

When the spacecraft arrived at Saturn in 2004, the planet's northern hemisphere, seen at the top here, was in darkness, just beginning to emerge from winter. These could contaminate the habitable moons and be wrongly identified by future missions as life indigenous to those worlds. Join NASA engineers for the tense and triumphant moments as they find out if their gambit has paid off, and discover the wonders that Cassini has revealed over the years.

Cassini's missions have revolutionised our understanding of Saturn, giving us a portal to look at the processes that shaped the development of our solar system, as well as planetary systems around other stars.

Cassini has made hundreds of passes over Titan during its 13-year tour of the Saturn system - including 127 precisely targeted encounters - some at close range and some, like this one, more distant. Huygens found an Earth-like world with lakes and seas composed of liquid methane and ethane near its poles and, deep below its surface, a large internal ocean.

The probe passed within 75,000 miles (120,000km) of the moon's surface on Monday.

Cassini's revelations about Titan have been some of the most significant discoveries in the entire mission.

Prepared for all contingencies, the spacecraft is equipped with two computers, two star scanners, two Sun sensors, two gyroscopes, and two radios. The probe, which blasted off in October 1997, will plunge into Saturn's atmosphere NASA said. This time, Cassini will dive into the planet's atmosphere, sending science data for as long as its small thrusters can keep the spacecraft's antenna pointed at Earth.

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