On September 15th, 2017, NASA’s Cassini mission will come to an end after 13 years studying Saturn and just shy of 20 years in space. Known as the “Grand Finale,” the end of life for the Cassini probe will be quite the dramatic event. On April 26th, 2017, Cassini will make a final orbital change which will place it on an orbital path that will take it below the rings of Saturn, a first for any probe ever to visit the planet, allowing us a once in a lifetime chance to explore this region of the gas giant. Over the next 6 months, Cassini will make about 20 passes through this zone, slowly but surely descending into the atmosphere of Saturn by early morning on the 15th of September.
What’s amazing, and in the video below brought a tear to my eye, is the fact that as Cassini dives into the Saturnian atmosphere, it will use the little remaining fuel it has to try to keep itself oriented towards Earth, sending all the data it can on the atmosphere before it finally burns up due to friction with the thicker layers. It’s an amazing thought, that the machine will try to its last moment to provide all the information it can. There is a beauty to this I think few will understand, but maybe the video on the Grand Finale will help, with its good production value and perfect music usage.
The video explains the core ideas and history of the mission quite well. Enjoy!