Cassini “Grand Final”: the end of the mission

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On September 15, 2017, the Cassini probe that has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004 will complete its mission, dipping towards the planet to the rings in the upper layers of its atmosphere where it will be consumed by the forces of friction. A final phase called by the Nasa “Grand Finale”, which will lead the probe to areas that it has never crossed before.

It has collected such data and photographs on Saturn, its atmosphere, dynamics, rings, satellites, etc. It has provided researchers with work for decades to come. These data have already provided important work to several UnivEarthS groups: E1 : Formation of dunes and climate on Titan, I6: From dust to planets, or I12 Multi-wavelength & Multi-Physics Planetary Peeling

Part of the Earth in October 1997, the spacecraft Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004. It is the result of an extraordinary collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). Thus, Cassini carried a small European “Huygens” probe to Saturn on its back and then dropped it into the thick atmosphere of Titan, the biggest Saturnian satellites.

For 13 years, Cassini has remained in orbit around Saturn, sometimes passing very close to some of its glaciated satellites that it was able to photograph in detail. This is the case of Enceladus who unveiled the presence of water geysers in the south pole, betraying a certain volcanic activity and the presence of an ocean of liquid water under a cracked ice bark. Passing through the poles of Saturn, the probe unveiled the existence of a mysterious atmospheric hexagon located perfectly at the North Pole, as large as twice the Earth and which has now been called the Vortex of Saturn. Its rings have been widely studied and have appeared even finer than what had been estimated from Earth.

In the absence of additional fuel, the mission will end on September 15, 2017, by plunging spectacularly into the atmosphere of Saturn and disintegrating in the form of a magnificent shooting star.