SPACE | NASA’s Cassini spacecraft to face fiery end

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The Cassini spacecraft is set to end its 13-year mission to Saturn by transmitting data until it plunges into the ringed planet’s atmosphere. Reuters’ Jillian Kitchener reports.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is coming to a fiery end – set to make its farewell dive into Saturn’s atmosphere on Friday morning — wrapping up a 13-year mission orbiting Saturn, collecting data and jaw dropping images like these.

“We won’t watch Cassini burn up. What we’ll watch it is slowly turn away from us and we’ll watch the indicator on the radio science displays that will go down flat and essentially lost signal. The mission will be over within a minute later,” Earl Maize, Cassini program manager, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, saying.

That mission has provided groundbreaking discoveries that included seasonal changes on Saturn and a global ocean on the moon Enceladus with ice plumes spouting from its surface.

Scientists say that blowing up the craft will ensure that any hitchhiking Earth microbes still alive on Cassini will not contaminate the moons for future study, and they may have the potential to support indigenous microbial life.

NASA says Cassini’s final photo as it heads into Saturn’s atmosphere will likely be of propellers, or gaps in the rings caused by moonlets.