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15th of September 2017
Cassini's grand finale
Tonight, our team at Tidbinbilla will play a crucial role in monitoring the final hours of the Cassini spacecraft as it plunges into Saturn's atmosphere. Launched in October, 1997, Cassini reached Saturn in mid-2004, carrying the European Huygens probe. (ATNF telescopes participated in the global effort to track the Huygens probe in January 2005 as it descended through the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan to its surface.) Cassini's key discoveries have included a global ocean with indications of hydrothermal activity within Enceladus, and liquid methane seas on Titan. In 2010, Cassini began a seven-year program to make many moon flybys while observing seasonal changes on Saturn and Titan. In April 2017, Cassini was placed on an impact course that unfolded over five months of daring dives -- a series of 22 orbits that each pass between the planet and its rings. Called the Grand Finale, this final phase of the mission has brought observations of the planet and its rings from closer than ever before. Tonight, the spacecraft will make its final approach to Saturn, diving into the planet's atmosphere and sending science data for as long as its thrusters can keep the spacecraft's antenna pointed at Earth. Soon after, Cassini will burn up and disintegrate like a meteor. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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