After being launched 20 years ago by NASA, Cassini started this week its last five orbits to Saturn.
And so, the Cassini spacecraft’s mission on Saturn is coming to an end. It began this week the first of the last five orbits to the planet, which will culminate in its disintegration in the atmosphere on 15 September.
Cassini has been in existence for 20 years, which has revolutionized the understanding of the Solar System and ends in about a month. In the latest move, the spacecraft was able to position itself about 1,600 kilometers from the upper atmosphere to collect gas samples and identify the chemical composition of the planet’s atmosphere.
The planet Saturn is composed mainly of hydrogen (about 75%), helium and other gases, explained the European Space Agency scientist Nicolas Altobelli in an interview with the BBC. “Saturn radiates more energy than it absorbs from the Sun, which means it is not a gravitational energy and is being lost. Therefore, obtaining a precise measurement of hydrogen and helium in the upper layers, establishes a restriction on the general distribution of the material in the interior”.
Although the grand final is approaching, many questions still arise, such as how long does a day last on Saturn? According to Jo Pitesky, there is still no certainty, even after so many years. When Cassini visited the gaseous giant for the first time, it measured the day in 10 hours and 47 minutes, but whenever it did, the numbers changed.
Therefore, it is expected that Cassini will fly even lower than it has so far flown, in order to observe in more detail, the movement between the magnetic field and the axis of rotation of the planet.
Before entering the last phase of “dives”, Cassini says farewell to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, with images that give the opportunity to see never-before-seen details of the planet’s natural satellite. In addition, the images still show the changing atmosphere, thus evidencing the movement of clouds over the years.
Throughout the mission, Cassini’s radar spotted approximately 67% of Titan’s surface.