At 7:55 a.m. EDT on September 15th, we will officially observe a loss of signal from the Cassini spacecraft as it makes its fateful plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere, traveling at 76,000 mph (34 kilometers per second).
Diagram of Cassini’s final plunge.NASA / JPL-Caltech / Emily Lakdawalla
During the orbiter’s last moments, its control thrusters will fire at 100% of their capacity in order to keep the high-gain antenna pointed toward Earth. This will enable the spacecraft to send any last remnants of invaluable data our way before the spacecraft itself becomes a meteor high above the clouds of the ringed planet. The team has predicted loss of communication at an altitude of about 1,500 kilometers (930 miles).
Eight of Cassini’s instruments will be in use during its final plunge.NASA / JPL-Caltech
The discoveries made by Cassini during its 13-year exploration of the Saturn system are vast. Liquid methane seas and lakes of Titan, and the liquid water world of Enceladus, complete with its geysers and possible hydrothermic vents are only some of the major discoveries the probe has unveiled.
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