NASA’s Cassini Huygen spacecraft has finished its mission and was self-destructed over Saturn after operating for 20 years.
The decision to destroy it over Saturn came after the spacecraft’s groundbreaking discoveries of potential life on Saturn’s moons.
The original plan was to allow it to drift, but with the potential for life it was decided that the risk of Earth microbes contaminating and potentially destroying any microscopic life was too great.
So it was decided to destroy it in Saturn’s atmosphere, where the head generated by entry would destroy any contaminants on the remnant of the spacecraft.
The Cassini spacecraft made a number of important discoveries, as well as leaving an enormous amount of data that may lead to new discoveries.
Among its most notable finds were detailed information about Saturn’s rings- thinner than expected and made of pure ice, there was little rubble to be found contrary to expectations.
It gave scientist more data on the hexagonal storm at its pole, with each of its sides longer than the diameter of the Earth.
Most notable, made interesting finds on the moons Titan and Enceladus, both of which has conditions comparable to stages of Earth’s development.
Titan has an ice-rock landscape similar to what Earth’s would have been 3.5 billion years ago, with rivers, lakes and seas of liquid ethane and methane.
Enceladus is even more intriguing, with evidence there may be thermal vents, similar to ones on Earth which are teeming with life in the deep ocean, under Enceladus’ own icy surface.
Associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen commented on the legacy of Cassini Huygens.
“This is the final chapter of an amazing mission, but it’s also a new beginning,” he said.
“Cassini’s discovery of ocean worlds at Titan and Enceladus changed everything, shaking our views to the core about surprising places to search for potential life beyond Earth.”
Michael Watkins, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where the spacecraft was designed, developed and assembled, spoke about saying goodbye.
“It’s a bittersweet, but fond, farewell to a mission that leaves behind an incredible wealth of discoveries that have changed our view of Saturn and our solar system, and will continue to shape future missions and research,” he said.