A 'goodbye kiss' to Cassini

This graphic shows Cassini's final plunge toward Saturn with tick marks representing time intervals of 2 minutes leading to the spacecraft's entry into the atmosphere

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)'s Cassini spacecraft was on final approach to Saturn as mission navigators confirmed that it was on course to dive into the planet's atmosphere on Friday. That would make them relatively young compared with Saturn; perhaps a moon or comet came too close to Saturn and broke apart, forming the rings 100 million years ago.

The same might be true for Cassini's place in pop culture. Here are a few things to know about the end of this mission. Those cameras, over the years of photographing Saturn, its rings and moons, created some of the most visually lovely images of the solar system. This probe explored Saturn's moon Titan, which is larger than Mercury and is the only moon in the solar system with a dense atmosphere. This will ensure they remain pristine for future exploration. But outside those two communities, what will serve as the tangible reminders of the mission?

At 1031 GMT, the spacecraft is due to enter Saturn's atmosphere with its antennas pointed toward Earth and its motors running full blast in order to hold its trajectory. There it circled Saturn almost 300 times and made observations that transformed scientists' understanding of the most distant planet visible to the unaided eye.

Milestones in Cassini's final dive toward Saturn in September 2017.

"You can think of Cassini as the first Saturn probe", said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist. "It'll be a mixture of sadness and pride and joy at having worked on the mission and saying goodbye to my Cassini family". Cassini's sacrifice will be remembered for ever.

NASA's Cassini has been honoured with a opera song.

In addition, Cassini carried a smaller European Space Agency probe, Huygens, created to land on Titan.

Cassini was launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004.

Scientists plan to collect data from the spacecraft's instruments until the very end of the mission.

The Royal Mail (UK) issued in 2012 a postage stamp that featured a Cassini image of Saturn and its rings. "I find great comfort in the fact that Cassini will continue teaching us up to the very last second". "It would be interesting to do a survey on Cassini's impact on the arts", said Lakdawalla.

"The scientific legacy of the mission will extend long beyond its fiery end in the clouds of Saturn".

Here are nine of the most exciting scientific discoveries the Cassini mission brought about.

What are scientists and space aficionados saying about this finale?

"I peripherally followed my father's career through high school and early college but it wasn't actually really until the latter part of my undergraduate college career that I started really becoming more interested in the type of work he did", Jason said. Cassini has collected 450,000 images using a visible light camera.

"We'll be able to look at some important constituents that we know are there because we've been measuring them, but we'll get a better idea, for example, of the hydrogen to helium ratio, and that's important in terms of understanding the formation and evolution of Saturn", he said. "We did it.' Cassini was so profoundly, scientifically successful", said planetary scientist Carolyn Porco at the University of California, Berkeley. It arrived six years later, having navigated the risky asteroid-belt that lies between us and Saturn, but with only basic instrumentation on board it wasn't able to gather much scientific data.

First there was the sheer distance involved. Over the mission, the northern hemisphere shifted from a bluish hue to the more familiar golden tones as the shadows cast by Saturn's rings moved south.

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