Cassini's fiery death witnessed by emotional NASA team

Posted September 16, 2017

- For the last thirteen years, Cassini has been orbiting Saturn, sending back extraordinary images and data from the ringed planet and its moons.

In addition, embedded virtual screens in the feed will provide a digital simulation of the spacecraft, so that we can all see what Cassini sees as it nears its end. Dutiful to the end, the spacecraft sampled Saturn's atmosphere Friday morning as it made its final plunge.

The Space agency added, from that point, the spacecraft will begin to burn up like a meteor.

The long-lived spacecraft's fateful dive was the final beat in the mission's Grand Finale, which began in late April, through the gap between Saturn and its rings. It then spent more than a decade whirling around the planet and flying close by the many moons in the system, gathering data and making discoveries that many at NASA never even expected. After receiving a "goodbye kiss" from Titan on September 11-a gravitational sling from the large moon to put the spacecraft on the correct trajectory-Cassini hurled toward Saturn one last time at roughly 75,000 miles per hour, on a collision course to plunge into the planet itself and burn up in the high clouds.

Just before 0500 GMT NASA wrote on Twitter that Cassini was reconfiguring "to transmit its final observations to Earth in real time".

"The spacecraft's final signal will be like an echo".

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Project manager Earl Maize, center, left, and flight director Julie Webster hug in mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, in Pasadena after confirmation of Cassini's demise. On its way through the gas giant's upper atmosphere, Cassini pulsed its thrusters to keep its antennae pointed at Earth in order to transmit scientific data until tis final moments.

This Grand Finale, as NASA called it, came about as Cassini's fuel tank started getting low after 13 years exploring the planet.

Any photos?: Yes. NASA released a batch of images that Cassini took on the final day of its journey. Two of Saturn's moons - Enceladus and Titan - are considered tantalizing places that could potentially host life, and NASA wants to continue studying these worlds in the future.

Cassini image of Saturn's geyser-blasting moon Enceladus, captured on September 13, 2017. "The Cassini mission has taught us so very much", he said.

Professor John Zarnecki, the President of the Royal Astronomical Society, led one of the 6 instrument teams on Huygens, as it made its successful landing on Saturn's largest moon Titan in 2005 - the first time a spacecraft had touched down on a world in the outer Solar System.