The countdown at JPL in Pasadena for the Cassini mission is down to its final month. Cassini is set to make its five final orbits since arriving there in 2004. Astronomer Trina Ray told KFI's Kris Ankarlo that she'll miss the daily discoveries.
"We're waiting for a little burst of information to come from our robot explorer that's out at Saturn. And it's going to tell us something totally new that we didn't know yesterday."
The spacecraft finished the first of those five final orbits Monday night. Ray was particularly excited sice this was the first time Cassini had dipped into the atmosphere of Saturn. There's a slight lag time on getting that data back to JPL in Pasadena. "[As of] August 14th, the one-way light time is one hour, nineteen minutes and eleven seconds," Ray said.
With the first of five final orbits before Cassini plunges into the gas giant's atmosphere, the data being gathered will help scientists better understand the makeup of Saturn's atmosphere.
The Cassini spacecraft was first launched on October 15th, 1997 and entered orbit around Saturn on July 1st, 2004. The interplanetary voyage took Cassini past Venus, Earth and Jupiter. The Huygens unmanned probe successfully detached itself from the orbiter and landed on the Saturn moon of Titan in 2005. It was the first successful deployment of a landing in the outer solar system.
Cassini's final plunge into Saturn's atmosphere is scheduled for September 15th.