Cassini spacecraft with UA ties plunges into Saturn's atmosphere - Tucson News Now

Cassini spacecraft with UA ties plunges into Saturn's atmosphere

Cassini spacecraft (Source: NASA) Cassini spacecraft (Source: NASA)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

The University of Arizona’s role in a space mission came to an end as the Cassini spacecraft plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere Friday morning.

Cassini has been in space for nearly 20 years gathering data about the second-largest planet of our solar system and sending it back to earth for scientists.

[READ MORE: The Latest: NASA's Cassini spacecraft burns up over Saturn]

UA researchers had a hand in this scientific mission that has allowed scientists to learn more about the planet and its composition.

A device on the spacecraft, officially called the Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer, allows scientists to get a better look at the planet.

Edward Audi, a science operations engineer, has worked on the mission from the U of A campus for four years. He said the scientific camera has played an important role.

“That allows a scientist to collect data, not just in the visual light ,so infrared as well. And that gives them information about the composition of what they’re looking at. It also allows them to do some neat things like look through the atmosphere of Titan, one of Saturn’s moons,” he said.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 15, NASA let Cassini run out of fuel and drop into Saturn’s atmosphere – essentially killing itself.

The decision to end the mission was planned well in advance. Scientists didn’t want it to eventually lose control and possibly contaminate one of Saturn’s moons.

Audi said the information collected from this mission is critical to learn more about the planet and its moons. He said it proved to be successful and that information will continue to be valuable in the future.

Audi said there will be mixed emotions when the spacecraft dies. He and others will gather at the NASA center in California to watch it tumble and disappear.

“People have been working on this mission for 20 to 30 years so when this ends it’s a big piece of some people’s careers so I imagine there will be various emotions because it’s a moment to be proud of what was accomplished but it’s also the end of an era for a lot of people,” he said.

If you’d like to learn more about this mission, the University of Arizona is hosting "Saturn Weekend: The Grand Finale of the Cassini Mission" on Sept. 15 to 17 at the Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium.

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