A Blazing Finale To Cassini Mission

A thrilling epoch in the exploration of our solar system came to a close Friday, as NASA's Cassini spacecraft made a plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn.

The plunge, deliberately calculated, ended Cassini's 13-year tour of the ringed planet.

Scientists say the plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn was calculated to ensure that the spacecraft, now running low on propellant, would not accidentally crash into one of Saturn's moons and potentially contaminate it with Earthly bacteria. 

The move ensures those moons will be pristine for future missions of exploration.

Cassini's mission is one that provided an astonishing insight into the environment of Saturn and its moons. 

The mission included the discovery of ocean worlds at Titan and Enceladus, which have broadened our views about the surprising places where we can search for potential life beyond Earth.

Telemetry received during the plunge indicates that, as expected, Cassini entered Saturn's atmosphere with its thrusters firing to maintain stability, as it sent back a unique final set of science observations. 

As planned, data from eight of Cassini's science instruments was beamed back to Earth. 

Mission scientists will examine the spacecraft's final observations in the coming weeks for new insights about Saturn, including hints about the planet's formation and evolution, and processes occurring in its atmosphere.

Cassini launched in 1997 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and arrived at Saturn in 2004. 

NASA extended its mission twice - first for two years, and then for seven more.

While the Cassini spacecraft is gone, its enormous collection of data about Saturn - the giant planet, its magnetosphere, rings and moons - will continue to yield new discoveries for decades to come.

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