The Cassini Saturn probe plunged to its destruction this morning just before 8 a.m. ET, when it entered into Saturn’s atmosphere. Its remarkable 20-year mission was full of discovery and cosmic glory, and is the only spacecraft to ever orbit Saturn.
When Cassini left earth on Oct. 15, 1997, astronomers had speculations about the planet. But, the six-ton and $3.25 billion probe was able to confirm and discover the unimaginable. In its approximately 300 orbits around Saturn, it discovered 2 oceans, 3 seas, hundreds of lakes, 12 out of the 62 known moons, and confirmed that the biggest moon, Titan, contains hydrocarbons essential for life.
It burned through 183 main engines but was able to collect more than 453,000 images and travel 4.9 billion miles. The total cost of the mission was $3.9 billion.
The probe transmitted all of its data, including the final images, back to earth. The Grand Finale of Cassini was watched and admired by those on earth as a triumphant end to a 20-year journey filled with discovery.