The final approach of the $4 billion spacecraft towards Saturn's Atmosphere

When Cassini arrived at Saturn, where one "year" lasts 29.5 Earth years, the gas giant went through northern winter, and Cassini was there to witness the planet's change of seasons.

The Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer will act as the "nose" of the spacecraft, directly sampling the composition and structure of the atmosphere - something that can't be done from orbit, said Hunter Waite, team lead for the spectrometer. "Almost like we've taken a magnifying glass to the planet and the rings".

By 3:30 a.m., Cassini will be gone.

Hosts will cover the ins and outs of the final moments live from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, where the mission is headquartered.

The team chose to destroy Cassini out of fear it could crash into Enceladus or Titan, two of the most likely candidates for life elsewhere in our solar system.

With its lovely rings (280,000 km across), impressive size (120,000km diameter at the equator), and extensive number of moons (more than 60), Saturn has always been fascinating.

"The scientific legacy of the mission will extend long beyond its fiery end in the clouds of Saturn". There are fascinating images of geysers shooting from Enceladus's south pole, attractive images of Saturn's rings (including one with Saturn's shadow falling on them), and a zoomed-in view of Epimetheus (another of Saturn's moons).

Titan - a moon of Saturn the size of planet Mercury - may also have a liquid ocean.

Cassini is being driven into Saturn's atmosphere to ensure that the probe doesn't contaminate the moons Titan and Enceladus - both of which may be capable of supporting life - with microbes from Earth.

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Its mission extended twice, Cassini's findings transformed scientists' understanding of Saturn, its rings and its moons.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has its grand finale on Friday as the orbiter goes out in a blaze while sinking into Saturn's atmosphere.

The last signal and data from Cassini are expected at about 8 a.m. ET. The final dive on Friday is a dramatic conclusion to this unique, long and scientifically valuable goodbye. It arrived six years later, having navigated the unsafe asteroid-belt that lies between us and Saturn, but with only basic instrumentation on board it wasn't able to gather much scientific data. NASA later updated its post and confirmed that Cassini was back in contact with the mission's ground controllers.

Ian Griffin says Cassini has had an unbelievable mission which has transformed our understanding of Saturn.

In the end, Cassini will have witnessed half of a Saturn year. A minute or so later, Saturn's powerful gravity will tear Cassini apart, vaporizing it nearly instantly.

And now, after completing 13 years of a journey around the ring planet, Cassini is going to destroy itself inside the Saturn's atmosphere on September 15.

NASA recreated a Cassini image of a backlit Saturn using a collage of about 1,600 photos of people waving at the ringed planet as part of social media campaign in 2013.

One of NASA's most successful missions the study of Saturn is coming to an end on Friday. Some offices have already emptied as staff found posts on NASA's Juno mission around Jupiter, the agency's Mars 2020 rover or the Europa clipper, which aims to find out whether the Jovian moon is habitable. "Cassini pioneered that whole concept", Jim Green, head of NASA's planetary science division director, said at the news conference.

Intrigued by Cassini's discoveries, scientists have submitted concepts for future "spacecraft to drift on the methane seas of Titan and fly through the Enceladus plume to collect and analyze samples for signs of biology" that are now under consideration, according to NASA.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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