The NASA Cassini mission has ended. But what did it tell us?

Posted September 16, 2017

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.

NASA has let one of its most valuable space exploration missions go up in smoke.

Cassini's discoveries have fundamentally reshaped scientists' understanding of Saturn, and of the solar system's life-hosting potential.

Even during Cassini's final moments, it will be beaming data back to Eart.

"This has been an incredible mission, an incredible spacecraft and you're all an incredible team", Mr Maize said.

Professor Patrick Irwin, whose Oxford University team supplied critical elements of Cassini's Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) instrument, said: "Cassini/CIRS has provided the underpinning to our planetary research in Oxford, and during its 20-year mission we have grown older, raised families and trained a whole new generation of scientists who have gone on to be worldwide leaders of planetary science in the Europe and the USA".

Flight controllers wearing matching purple shirts stood and embraced and shook hands.

Over 1500 people, including past and present team members, had gathered at California's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a vigil and celebration.

This unprocessed image of the Saturn system was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on September 13, 2017. Spilker of JPL said if she could change one thing about Cassini, it would have been to add life-detecting sensors to sample these plumes. Better that, they figured, than Cassini accidentally colliding with a moon that might harbor life and contaminating it.

The probe was running low on fuel, and the 13-year tour of the Saturn system mission must end.

Twenty-two times, Cassini entered the gap and came out again.

The Cassini spacecraft mission ends Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.

A lonelier solar system For now, the Jupiter probe Juno is our lone craft in the "second zone" of our solar system, which contains the gas and ice giant planets and their approximately 170 moons.

The icy moon, Enceladus, setting beyond the limb of Saturn.

Cassini snapped its last image from a distance of 394,000 miles (634,000 kilometers) away. The Huygens lander separated from Cassini and plopped down on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan shortly after the arrival. It was an global endeavour, with 27 nations taking part. The final price tag was $3.9 billion.