Cassini’s Final Moments May Be Visible From a Telescope Here on Earth

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According to ScienceAlert

Early Friday morning (US time), NASA’s Cassini probe will meet its doom as it becomes a streak of plutonium-laced fireworks in the clouds of Saturn.

The nuclear-powered robot was launched in 1997 to deeply study Saturn and its mysterious collection of moons. Cassini arrived in 2004, dropped off a lander on one moon, and has orbited Saturn and beamed back data and images to Earth ever since.

Scientists would love to keep the US$3.26 billion mission going, but their robot has gotten too low on propellant to safely control.

Extending the mission would risk crashing Cassini – which is contaminated with trace amounts of earthly bacteria – into Enceladus or Titan. These two moons of Saturn hide oceans of water and may be habitable to or even host alien life.

Instead of chucking the probe into deep space, like the twin Voyager spacecraft, NASA decided to destroy Cassini by sending it on a months-long death spiral into Saturn.

This daring manoeuvre – what NASA calls “the Grand Finale” – gave Cassini 22 unprecedented dives between Saturn and its gossamer-thin rings.

As NASA prepares to lose one of its most storied space probes, many space enthusiasts are wondering whether Cassini’s final moments will be visible from Earth, 930 million miles away.

Business Insider posed that question to Linda Spilker, a Cassini project scientist and a planetary scientist at NASA JPL. Her answer: “It’s gonna be tough, but I’m hopeful.”

Why it will be so difficult to see Cassini burn up

When Cassini plunges into Saturn’s outer atmosphere at about 76,000 mph, it should produce bursts of light. But that will be tough to see from Earth for a few reasons.

First, the brightest parts of those bursts will be in ultraviolet – the same wavelength of light that can cause sunburn. Because Earth’s ozone layer soaks up gobs of ultraviolet light, however, any UV flashes will appear dramatically dimmed to anyone watching from the ground.

 

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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This article and images were originally posted on [ScienceAlert] September 12, 2017 at 04:02AM

Credit to Author and ScienceAlert

 

 

 

 

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