As was the case with those moons of Jupiter, the discovery team at the Carnegie Institution for Science is soliciting suggestions for naming the newly reported moons of Jupiter. Right now, they’re known only by their numerical designations, such as S/2004 S29 or S5593a2.
Before its destruction, the bus-sized Cassini spacecraft fought Saturn’s buffeting atmosphere to send back scientific data for even longer than NASA thought it would.
But the end was inevitable: Twenty years after its launch, and 13 years after its arrival at the ringed planet, the final signals from Cassini were received at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., at 4:55:46 a.m. PT today.
“I’m going to call this the end of mission,” Cassini project manager Earl Maize declared, during an early-morning webcast that was watched by tens of thousands. “Project manager, off the net.”
The end was pre-ordained days earlier, when a final maneuver put the spacecraft on a course to dive into Saturn’s upper atmosphere. NASA meticulously planned out the controlled descent to make sure there was no chance that Cassini could crash into one of Saturn’s moons, which are certain to be targets for future missions.
Twenty years after its launch to Saturn, NASA has set the Cassini orbiter on a course for certain destruction on Sept. 15 – but there’s a decidedly positive spin to the $3.3 billion mission’s end.
“We’ll be saddened, there’s no doubt about it, at the loss of such an incredible machine,” Cassini program manager Earl Maize said Sept. 13 during a news briefing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “But I think all of us are going to have a great sense of pride in .. a little bit corny, perhaps … a ‘mission accomplished.’”
The bus-sized, plutonium-powered spacecraft was launched in 1997 and reached Saturn seven years later. It’s logged 4.9 billion miles, sent back nearly half a million images of the ringed planet and its moons, and transmitted 635 gigabytes worth of scientific data so far.
It’ll continue sending data all the way to the end, when it’s expected to break apart and burn up in the upper levels of Saturn’s atmosphere.
The researchers behind NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn are relieved, and a bit mystified, to discover that the narrow gap between the giant planet and its rings is virtually devoid of stray particles.
The discovery comes from the bus-sized Cassini spacecraft’s first dive through the gap on April 26, which marked the beginning of the end for the 20-year mission.
“The region between the rings and Saturn is ‘The Big Empty,’ apparently,” Cassini project manager Earl Maize of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a news release.
NASA’s Cassini orbiter zoomed inside Saturn’s rings overnight for the first time in its 20-year-long flight – and lived to tell about it.
Signals received by the Deep Space Network’s Goldstone radio antenna in California confirmed that the bus-sized spacecraft survived its closest-ever encounter with the ringed planet.
Cassini zoomed as close as 1,900 miles to Saturn’s cloud tops and within about 200 miles of the innermost visible edge of the rings, at a relative speed of 77,000 mph, NASA reported in an update early today.
Astronomers have long known that Pan, one of the “shepherd moons” in Saturn’s rings, had a weird shape. But it took this week’s high-resolution images from the Cassini orbiter to show them just how weird.
Cassini got its closest look ever at Pan on March 7, when it came within a little more than 15,000 miles of the 20-mile-wide moon. In the close-ups released on March 9, the thing looks like a flattened flying saucer, complete with a bulging ridge around the edge.
Overnight, the views sparked rounds of hilarity and awe on Twitter. Was it a cosmic turtle shell? Walnut? Ravioli? And what’s behind that strange, strange shape?