In DepthPlanetary Science

A fiery finish to Cassini's long run at Saturn

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Science  22 Sep 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6357, pp. 1219-1220
DOI: 10.1126/science.357.6357.1219

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Summary

Last week, after 13 years of exploration, NASA's Cassini spacecraft plunged into the upper reaches of Saturn's atmosphere at 123,000 kilometers per hour and melted away. The spacecraft's demise, necessitated by dwindling fuel and a need to protect two of Saturn's 62 moons from potential microbial contamination from Earth, brought forth a global outpouring of sentiment. Although pathos ruled for a day, Cassini's scientists are eager to get back to work. The spacecraft has already revolutionized understanding of gas giants and, with its discoveries of hydrogen-rich water plumes on Enceladus and methane lakes on Titan, the potential for life to exist beyond the classic "habitable zone." But its final 22 orbits could reveal insights into Saturn's rings and murky interior.