NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has beamed back a stunning picture of our planet Earth as seen from the Saturn’s icy rings, 870 million miles away. The unique picture shows the Earth and its Moon on its right side and both the celestial bodies can be seen below the Saturn’s rings. The Earth looks like a shining star from Saturn rings and together the Earth and the Moon look like two tiny dots.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which is on the Grand Finale journey around Saturn, is sharing some stunning pictures while making daring dives between the rings of the gas giant just days before it’s going to meet a heart-breaking end.
The Cassini probe recently performed first of the 22 death-defying dives between Saturn and its rings. After performing all the moves, it is scheduled to plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere. Cassini is beaming back never-seen images that include the close-up ever view of the Saturn rings back to Earth.
Cassini travelled through the relatively short 1,500-mile gap between Saturn and its rings this week and sent back precious data to Earth.
Isn’t it strange to look at the planet on which you and many billions of people live from this far distance. It sometimes becomes hard to believe that we live in a planet that looks like a star from space. Our Earth is just a dot among billions and billions of dots in the universe.
When we look at such pictures and think deeply about the universe, it crops up in our minds about a possible alien life beyond our solar system. Who knows someone out there looks at our planet and wonders if live thrives on this planet.
First of the 22 Cassini dives:
Cassini made the dive at the innermost ring of the planet, where no spacecraft has ever dared to go before. NASA has planned total 22 close encounters in the last phase and Wednesday’s dive was the first of these.
"Cassini spacecraft has once again blazed a trail, showing us new wonders and demonstrating where our curiosity can take us if we dare," National Aeronautics and Space Administration planetary sciences chief Jim Green said in a statement.
What Cassini is supposed to do in Grand Finale?
During the last phase, Cassini is expected to capture several small inner moons and observe Saturn’s winds, clouds, auroras and gravity.
In its last phase, the Cassini will perform a long string of historic firsts and Wednesday’s successful manoeuvre was the latest one. However, Cassini is soon going to die after its almost 20-year space odyssey.
Why NASA is killing Cassini probe?
In October 1997, NASA had launched Cassini probe to study Saturn and its moons. Cassini arrived at the orbit of Saturn in July 2004. After years of observations and data collection, Cassini is now ageing and is running low on fuel. Hence, NASA has decided to kill Cassini, which will meet its death after plunging into the atmosphere of Saturn.
"[The main] reason for this ending to the Cassini mission is something that NASA is very worried about – contamination of our life forms on planets and moons that may harbor other forms of life," says Nicholas Suntzeff, a professor of Observational Astronomy at Texas A&M University, tells the Monitor via email. "The moons of Saturn – Enceladus and Titan – could have life or complex organic molecules that are the soup out of which life forms."
When will NASA Cassini spacecraft meet death:
NASA officials are not sure whether Cassini will survive all its ring dives. The gap between Saturn and the rings is about 1,500 miles (2,400 km) wide and likely littered with ice particles.
Cassini is travelling through the gap at a relative speed of about some 77,000 mph (124,000 kph) so even small particles striking the spacecraft can be deadly.
The Cassini spacecraft will perform similar manoeuvres during its subsequent dives, the second of which is scheduled for Tuesday. On its final dive on September 15, Cassini will explode like a meteor and destroy itself by flying directly into Saturn's crushing atmosphere.
NASA plans to crash the spacecraft into Saturn to avoid any chance Cassini could someday collide with any ocean-bearing moons that have the potential to support indigenous microbial life.