The Cassini Huygens mission is on its final countdown. Launched 19 years ago, this spacecraft has been gathering information about Saturn, its moons, and even Jupiter and other planets. Lake Shore cryogenic sensors are onboard, advancing science! The mission has learned many facts that were previously unknown. Our closest encounters with Saturn before were flybys done by Pioneer 11 and Voyagers 1 and 2. Now we know so much more about our neighbor, and have collected many stunning images along the way.
The ESA’s Huygens probe piggybacked on Cassini and separated on December 25, 2004, landing on the moon Titan on January 14, 2005. It transmitted data back to Earth using Cassini as a relay. This was the first outer Solar System landing.
One beautiful image was taken on July 19, 2013 and is called “The Day the Earth Smiled.” NASA planned the image and told the public about it ahead of time, telling Earth’s inhabitants to smile for the picture. In it you can see the many defined rings of Saturn, its satellites, and to the right and under the rings, a little blue dot that is Earth.
But all good things must come to an end. Cassini has completed its last 5 passages around Saturn, through its upper atmosphere, and will plunge downward today. It will become a meteor, burning up through Saturn’s thick atmosphere. This is being done on purpose, to make sure Cassini doesn’t end up colliding with and contaminating one of Saturn’s moons.