Cassini was a space probe used for Cassini-Huygens mission, a collaborated mission between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency. Named after the famous astronomer Giovanni Cassini, this probe was a part of flagship-class robotic spacecraft alongwith ESA’s Huygen’s lander. It was the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and first to enter its orbit.
It was launched on October 15, 1997 and remained active in space for 20 years. It spent 13 years orbiting Saturn where it studied the planet and its system. It entered the orbit on July 1, 2004 and the entire mission ended on September 15, 2017. This mission helped astronomers in understanding of Saturn system, its moons and rings, and provided insight into finding life in the solar system. The probe was burned up in the upper atmosphere of Saturn after the end of the mission in order to prevent risk of contaminating Saturn’s moon. This mission was considered successful beyond expectation.
Cassini’s voyage to Saturn included flybys of Venus, Earth, Jupiter and the asteroid 2685 Masursky.
Venus and Earth Flyby
The cassini probe performed two flybys of Venus on April 26, 1998 and June 24, 1999. This was a gravitational assisted flyby. It helped the probe in gaining enough momentum to plunge out to the asteroid belt. But the probe remained in the inner solar system due to Sun’s gravitational pull.
On August 18, 1999, a similar gravitational assisted flyby of Earth was made by the probe where it made its closest approach to Earth’s moon at a distance of 377,000 km. This gave it a chance to capture a series of calibrated pictures.
On January 23, 2000, the probe performed a flyby of asteroid 2685 Masursky taking pictures from a distance of 1.6 million km.
Cassini remained close to Jupiter for six months making striking scientific measurements. 26000 images of Jupiter, its moon and its faint rings were captured during this period. The closest approach to Jupiter was made on December 30, 2000. The major finding of the flyby was of Jupiter’s atmospheric circulation.
On its voyage, cassini flew by the moon Phoebe on June 11, 2004. This served as an amazing opportunity to have a closer look at moon’s surface. The close-up images led scientists to believe that a large amount of water ice exists under its immediate surface.
It flew through F and G ring of Saturn on July 1. 2004 to achieve orbit.
It flew by Titan on July 2, 2004. It captured images using special filters. The images showed south polar clouds. 45 close flybys were planned. About 4GB data were collected and transmitted to Earth. Pictures included methane lakes.
On March 12, 2008, a close flyby of the moon was made by casssini. It passed through the plumes coming from southern geysers and detected water, carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons. On November 21, 2009, eighth flyby was made by the probe and this time it provided a detailed and high resolution mosaic image of southern hemisphere of the moon.On April 3, 2014, evidence of the availability of large salty internal ocean of liquid water was reported to have been discovered by Cassini on Enceladus. Cassini travelled in space for some more time capturing images and data before its retirement.
Cassini’s observations have allowed researchers to determine that Titan may be habitable even though its hydrocarbon – based weather system ensures that there would be great variation among the lifeforms on Earth and its likely inhabitants. This geyser water comes from a large subsurface ocean of liquid water, which may be capable of supporting life.
Cassini is now nearing the end of its long road. The probe carried out the first of 22 dives between Saturn’s cloud tops and the planet’s innermost ring in April. This “Grand Finale” phase will wrap up on Sept. 15, when Cassini will plunge into Saturn’s thick atmosphere in a suicide manoeuvre designed to ensure that the probe doesn’t contaminate Titan or Enceladus with microbes from Earth.
It entered into Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15, 2017 and was destroyed via controlled fall into Saturn’s atmosphere to prevent contamination of Saturn’s moons.
This is Cassini’s last brush with Saturn’s hazy Moon Titan.