Why Cassini Matters?

Cassini – Mission to Saturn

One of the most ambitious missions ever launched into space, comes to an end.

Yes! Cassini-Huygens mission—a joint endeavor of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency), and the Italian Space Agency is finally going to end on 15th September 2017 after making a suicidal plunge into Saturn, making it a historic moment for everyone.

Cassini was named after the 17th-century Italian-French Astronomer Jean-Dominique Cassini (also known as Gian Domenico Cassini), who was the first person to observe four of Saturn’s moons — Iapetus (1671), Rhea (1672), Tethys (1684) and Dione (1684).

It was the first ever mission to orbit Saturn and explore its environment in detail since 2004 and the total cost involved in it was $3.3 billion (Roughly $5 billion in 2017 dollars).

It weigh 5,655 kg which also included Huygens probe (12,467 pounds) and if we talk about its structure, it is 6.8 meters (22.3 ft) tall, equal to an empty 30-passenger school bus.

Cassini had travelled 3.5 billion kilometers (2.175 billion miles) on its way to Saturn and at its ending, it had orbited Saturn at least 76 times.

Cassini mission to Saturn was not that easy, as it looks. Its mission involved complicated orbital mechanics. It went past several planets — including Venus (twice), Earth and Jupiter — to get a speed boost by taking advantage of each planet’s gravity.

Cassini settled into orbit around Saturn on July 1, 2004. Among its prime objectives were to look for more moons, to figure out what caused Saturn’s rings and the colors in the rings, and understanding more about the planet’s moons.

Let’s have a glimpse, why Cassini matter for us?

Cassini - Mission to Saturn

1. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft expanded our understanding of the kind of world where life might exist and thanks to Cassini, Enceladus, one of the Moon of Saturn is now one of the most promising places in our solar system to search for present-day life beyond Earth as the mission eventually determined that it hosts a global liquid water ocean.

Saturn Image

2. At Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, Cassini showed us one of the most Earth-like world we’ve ever encountered, with weather, climate and geology that provided new ways to understand our home planet.

3. Cassini is, in a sense, a time machine. It has given us a portal to see the physical processes that likely shaped the development of our solar system, as well as planetary systems around other stars.

4. The length of Cassini’s mission has enabled us to observe weather and seasonal changes, improving our understanding of similar processes at Earth, and potentially those at planets around other stars.

Saturn ring's Image with Cassini

5. Cassini also showed us the complexity of Saturn’s rings and the dramatic processes operating within them.

6. Some of Cassini’s best discoveries were serendipitous. What Cassini found at Saturn prompted scientists to rethink their understanding of the solar system.

7. Cassini represents a staggering achievement of human and technical complexity, finding innovative ways to use the spacecraft and its instruments, and paving the way for future missions to explore our solar system.

8. Cassini revealed the beauty of Saturn, its rings and moons, inspiring our sense of wonder and enriching our sense of place in the cosmos.

Cassini had spent 13 years orbiting Saturn and it had been 20 years in space. The spacecraft had entered the final year of its epic voyage and space agencies had no other option then to end this, as Cassini is nearly out of fuel, and it had already been stretched years beyond its intended mission duration.

So, the spacecraft will end its existence by literally going, where no human-made object had ever gone before: into Saturn’s atmosphere and so for all we know, this is the last chance NASA has, to make direct measurements of Saturn and its atmosphere as there are no upcoming missions planned for the Saturn system for a very long time.

And that’s why Cassini’s finale is so special.

Cassini will become undetectable in the planet, which is approximately 764 times the size of Earth, leaving a rich scientific and engineering legacy for everyone.

Pooja Tiwari,
SPACE Educator

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