PHOTOS: NASA’s Cassini Probe Just Got Closer to Saturn Than Ever Before

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According to ScienceAlert

NASA’s Cassini probe is plunging to its death. The nuclear-powered spacecraft has orbited Saturn for 13 years, and sent back hundreds of thousands of images.

The photos include close-ups of the gaseous giant, its famous rings, and its enigmatic moons – including Titan, which has its own atmosphere, and icy Enceladus, which has a subsurface ocean that could conceivably harbour microbial life.

To prevent Cassini from crashing into and contaminating any of those hidden oceans, the space agency has directed the craft, which is running out of fuel, onto a crash course with Saturn.

On Monday, the space probe conducted the first of its final five orbits around the planet, dipping into Saturn’s atmosphere, according to NASA. It’s all part of the “Grand Finale” for the US$3.26-billion, 20-year mission, which will end on September 15 as the spacecraft dives to its demise and burns up like a meteor.

“As it makes these five dips into Saturn, followed by its final plunge, Cassini will become the first Saturn atmospheric probe,” Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at JPL, said in a press release.

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This article and images were originally posted on [ScienceAlert] August 16, 2017 at 03:44AM

Credit to Author and ScienceAlert