Check Out Photos of Saturn Sent From the Cassini Probe

Cassini has begun transmitting the final images of its mission revealing a last look at Saturn and its rings before the spacecraft plunges into the planet's atmosphere. This image was captured on September 13

In a JPL auditorium minutes after the end, science planner Jo Pitesky gazed up at the video from mission control with a slightly stricken look on her face.

The spacecraft helped scientists map Saturn's other moons, as well as helped them get a close-up look through the planet's iconic rings, using UVIS. Its hitchhiking companion, Huygens, landed on the moon Titan in 2005.

Dougherty is hoping that as Cassini spiraled into the atmosphere, the onboard magnetometer detected a telltale tilt in the magnetic field that should resolve the uncertainty over the length of a Saturnian day, Joe reports. That would make them relatively young compared with Saturn; perhaps a moon or comet came too close to Saturn and broke apart, forming the rings 100 million years ago.

Team members who have spent their careers working on the Cassini mission reflect on the epic journey.

Illustration of Cassini spacecraft prepping to dive into Saturn's atmosphere. These projects launched spacecraft into deep-space, in 1977 and 1989 respectively, to explore the farthest planets in our solar systems. During the spacecraft's frequent flybys of the icy moon thought to host a hidden ocean of liquid water beneath hundreds of miles of ice, scientists found hints of conditions favorable for microbial life.

While the Cassini spacecraft is gone, its enormous collection of data about Saturn - the giant planet, its magnetosphere, rings and moons - will continue to yield new discoveries for decades to come.

Cassini snapped its "last memento photos" of the Saturn system Thursday. Voyager 1 (1980), and Voyager 2 (1981) had flown by Saturn earlier, not stopping but giving us the opportunity to see the planet as the incredible world that it is. Just after 3:30 a.m. California time on Friday, Cassini entered Saturn's atmosphere, plummeting at a pace of about 77,000 miles per hour.

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Before its destruction, the bus-sized Cassini spacecraft fought Saturn's buffeting atmosphere to send back scientific data for even longer than NASA thought it would. All the while, it was collecting its last bits of data regarding Saturn's atmosphere. It will take just a few minutes for it to be completely destroyed.

"The Cassini operations team did an absolutely stellar job guiding the spacecraft to its noble end", Earl Maize, Cassini project manager, said in the release. The probe was running out of fuel, and NASA would have lost control.

The room burst into applause. "The wake we're experiencing right now for Cassini, it's not so much an end but the early steps that pave the way for the next stage of exploration".

"A flawless spacecraft", she said, her voice nearly cracking with emotion. While the mission itself is over, the data Cassini collected as its mission ended will keep scientists at NASA occupied for weeks yet.

NASA said earlier this year that Enceladus, has "all the ingredients needed to support life".

"It has been a tremendous mission to be a part of", said Hsu, according to The Washington Post.

A jar of peanuts on a console in mission control of the Space Flight Operations Center as the Cassini mission team await the final downlink of the spacecraft's data recorder on September 14, 2017. With scorching-hot temperatures searing its instruments, the hardy probe held on during the dive into Saturn.

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