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New Cassini findings suggest Saturn moon could support life

New Cassini findings suggest Saturn moon could support lifeComplex organic molecules have been discovered originating from one of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, adding to its potential to support life, researchers said on Wednesday. The Cassini spacecraft first flew close to the ice-covered moon in 2005 as part of a mission to gather data on Saturn that will be analyzed for years to come. A team led by Frank Postberg and Nozair Khawaja of the University of Heidelberg in Germany said they had identified fragments of large organic molecules in ice grains that were ejected from geysers through cracks in the moon’s icy exterior.



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Cassini grand finale: Nasa breaks up above Saturn after historic 20-year mission

Cassini grand finale: Nasa breaks up above Saturn after historic 20-year mission  Even as Nasa’s Cassini probe hurtled towards its final, fiery destruction in the atmosphere above Saturn, controllers back on Earth were hoping it would reveal one final secret. The 20-year mission to investigate the ringed planet and its moons had been hailed as one of the dazzling successes of space exploration, yet it had so far failed to solve one of Saturn’s most intriguing riddles: why the northern hemisphere has a shorter day than the southern. Scientists believe the answer lies in the mosaic of magnetic fields near the planet’s surface. The only way to pass through them, however, was as part of a suicide dive. Ligeia Mare, a hydrocarbon sea on Saturn's moon Titan Credit: NASA Yesterday, as the 22-foot craft buffeted through Saturn’s upper layer of clouds, scientists at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, were left praying the 20th Century-built machine could keep stable long enough to collect and transmit the vital data. Teams will now spend months poring over the new information, but the early indications look positive – the probe was beaming back information right until the end. “Cassini performed exactly as she was supposed to,” said Professor Jonathan Lunine, from Cornell University, New York, meanwhile Astronomer Royal Lord Rees described the final descent as the “grand finale of the greatest scientific and engineering achievements in space exploration.” Saturn’s out-of-sync hemispheres have baffled scientists since Cassini first spotted the variation when it arrived in 2004. The north pole of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus Credit: NASA While the northern hemisphere completes a full rotation in approximately 10.6 hours, in the south it takes 10.8 hours. Dr Daniel Brown, an astronomer at Nottingham Trent University, said cracking this conundrum would yield insights into the science of planet formation in general. Central to that endeavour was Cassini’s 30-foot protruding boom, housing the magnetometer, which is certain to have been ripped off seconds after the craft lost contact as it spun out of control at 77,000 miles per hour. So important was this information, Nasa prioritised collecting it in the precious final few moments at low altitude in favour of taking pictures, the last of which were transmitted on Thursday. Cassini-Huygens: 20 years of images 01:32 The craft had been low on fuel a decision was taken not to let it indefinitely drift. At mission control, technicians who had devoted decades to Cassini were overcome with emotion when the signal was lost at 12.55pm UK time. Nasa's Earl Maize addressed fellow controllers: "Congratulations to you all," he said. "This has been an incredible mission, an incredible spacecraft and you're all an incredible team. I'm going to call this end of mission. Project manager off the net." Earl Maize speaks during a press conference held after the end of the Cassini Credit: NASA Arriving at Saturn seven years after blast-off from Cape Canaveral in 1997, Cassini was originally only intended to spend three years observing the planet and its moons, before controllers decided they would extend the flight by another decade. Over the course of the mission, Cassini discovered seven new moons, six of which have been named, observed raging storms on Saturn, and shed new light on the planet's famous rings. One of the most significant findings was that of an ocean under the icy surface of Enceladus which may harbour life. The mission made international headlines in 2005 when it landed an orbiter, Huygens, on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Hyperion, one of Saturn's outer moons Credit: NASA At almost every stage, the project has been supported by British scientists, including Professor John Zarnecki, President of the Royal Astronomical Society. “I worked on Cassini/Huygens for more than 20 years so of course I feel slightly sad,” he said. “But it’s given me the most wonderful ride and it delivered my instrument to the surface of Titan where it’s still sitting. “It has shown Titan to be even more wonderful than we had ever imagined – we’ve seen seas and lakes and rivers and dune fields and clouds and rain and more. “The data we collected is unlikely to be bettered for many decades to come. “The mission has not only been a wonderful scientific success but has also shown what can be achieved when scientists and engineers from across the world can work together with a common purpose to realise lofty goals.”     Earth appears as a pale blue dot below Saturn's majestic rings in this stunning image taken by the Cassini space probe – can you spot it? Credit:  PA What was the purpose of the Cassini mission? To study Saturn and its moons from close up and in the process learn more about the solar system and how it was formed. Scientists were especially interested in Saturn's giant moon Titan, which has a nitrogen and methane atmosphere and in some ways resembles an early version of Earth. The whole mission cost £2.9 billion. When was Cassini launched and how long did it take to reach Saturn? Cassini was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 1997 and took seven years to reach Saturn, travelling two billion miles. On the way it made fly-bys of Venus, the Earth, and Jupiter to receive gravitational "kicks" that boosted its speed to more than 42,500mph. Cassini arrived at the ringed planet in July 2004. What was the purpose of the Cassini mission? To study Saturn and its moons from close up and in the process learn more about the solar system and how it was formed. Scientists were especially interested in Saturn's giant moon Titan, which has a nitrogen and methane atmosphere and in some ways resembles an early version of Earth. The whole mission cost £2.9 billion. Read more:  Nasa waves emotional goodbye to Cassini after death plunge into Saturn 



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Farewell Cassini: Saturn spacecraft makes fiery, final dive

Farewell Cassini: Saturn spacecraft makes fiery, final diveCAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA's Cassini spacecraft disintegrated in the skies above Saturn on Friday in a final, fateful blaze of cosmic glory, following a remarkable journey of 20 years.



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These Stunning Photos of Saturn Are a Beautiful Goodbye From NASA’s Cassini Probe

These Stunning Photos of Saturn Are a Beautiful Goodbye From NASA’s Cassini ProbeEight striking images Cassini captured of the ringed planet



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Watch Live: NASA's Cassini Spacecraft Self-Destructs in 'Grand Finale' on Saturn

Watch Live: NASA's Cassini Spacecraft Self-Destructs in 'Grand Finale' on SaturnIt will make its final plunge into Saturn on Friday morning



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Cassini says goodbye with its final photos from Saturn

Cassini says goodbye with its final photos from SaturnAs with all good things, they must come to an end, and space exploration is no different. The Cassini spacecraft is now feeling the inexorable tug of Saturn's gravity as the bus-sized spacecraft is being pulled down into the giant planet's cloud tops.  Even though the probe — which has been exploring Saturn and its many moons since 2004 — is about to meet its doom, it's still doing what it was designed to do: science.  SEE ALSO: How Cassini quietly transformed our understanding of the solar system Cassini's final raw, photos are arriving on Earth now, and (no surprise) they're as stunning as ever.  Saturn seen on Sept. 13.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science InstituteSaturn's rings and clouds stand out against the blackness of space in a series of images designed to give us one last look at the planet that has felt so close for so long thanks to Cassini's intrepid work.  Saturn's rings on Sept. 13.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science InstituteOther photos show Titan's hazy atmosphere for the last time from close range. The large moon plays host to liquid seas and rivers of methane alongside dunes made of hydrocarbons.  Titan seen on Sept. 13.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science InstituteIt's an alien world unlike anything else in our solar system, and after Cassini meets its end at 7:55 a.m. ET Friday, our close-range eye on it will close. At the moment, there is no mission back to the Saturn system on the books.   In perhaps the most poignant images from this final set, you see Enceladus — a moon thought to have a subsurface ocean beneath its icy crust — setting behind Saturn as Cassini looks on at it one last time. Here is Enceladus setting, with all the animation frames aligned on Enceladus. pic.twitter.com/1JfJ0FWino — Emily Lakdawalla (@elakdawalla) September 15, 2017 That moon is one of the reasons for the probe's crash into the huge planet in the first place.  Enceladus on Sept. 13.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science InstituteInstead of allowing Cassini to simply float around out of control after its rocket fuel runs out, scientists decided to send the spacecraft into Saturn, allowing it to burn up harmlessly.  This crash is designed to save the world's potentially habitable moons from an impact from a human-made object that could contaminate them. WATCH: Neil deGrasse Tyson on why Titan is his favorite moon



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Cassini readies final plunge into Saturn

Cassini readies final plunge into SaturnNASA’s Cassini probe is counting its final hours before one last plunge into Saturn on Friday that will cap a fruitful 13-year mission that greatly expanded knowledge about the gas giant. While orbiting Saturn nearly 300 times, Cassini made major discoveries, such as the liquid methane seas of the planet’s giant moon Titan and the sprawling subsurface ocean of Enceladus, a small Saturn moon. “Cassini-Huygens is an extraordinary mission of discovery that has revolutionized our understanding of the outer solar system,” said Alexander Hayes, assistant professor of astronomy at Cornell University.



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Cassini Completes First Successful Dive Between Saturn and Its Rings

Cassini Completes First Successful Dive Between Saturn and Its RingsNASA’s Cassini spacecraft sent back fascinating images of Saturn’s atmosphere during its first dive between Saturn and its rings. It will complete its second dive this week.



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Cassini Spacecraft Successfully Dives Between Saturn and Its Rings

Cassini Spacecraft Successfully Dives Between Saturn and Its RingsTo boldly go where no robotic spacecraft has gone before.



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NASA’s Cassini survived its first Saturn dive, and delivered some mind-blowing photos

NASA’s Cassini survived its first Saturn dive, and delivered some mind-blowing photosNASA delivered some fantastic news very early this morning, announcing that the Cassini spacecraft had successfully survived the first of its "Grand Finale" dives. The craft was out of radio contact for many hours as it ventured closer to the surface of Saturn than any earthly equipment had ever gone, and it shot some really stunning photos that show the planet in greater detail than we've ever seen.

Cassini's first dive sent it straight through Saturn's rings, shooting for a gap that measures roughly 1,500 miles wide which is light on debris. The craft cruised through its targeted space at speeds around 77,000 miles per hour, relative to the surface of the planet, and NASA notes that even the smallest particles could have spelled utter doom for the hardware if it was hit in the wrong spot.

"In the grandest tradition of exploration, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has once again blazed a trail, showing us new wonders and demonstrating where our curiosity can take us if we dare," Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement.

The images Cassini delivered are the best photos humanity has ever had of Saturn's atmosphere, showing in detail the unique cloud formations that simply hadn't been seen previously. The photos were shot at a distance of about 1,900 miles from the planet, which might sound big, but is actually quite close when compared to most of Cassini's other photos.

Cassini's next dive will take place on May 2nd, and it will be the second of 22 total dives. So buckle up, because there's lots more awesome eye candy in store.



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