Light a blunt or cigar or finely scented candle in the name of our old friend Cassini. The NASA spacecraft took its final (and presumably fiery) plunge straight into Saturn's atmosphere Friday, bringing its 13-year discovery mission to a close.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said Cassini's finale should be looked at as the start of a new chapter. "This is the final chapter of an amazing mission, but it's also a new beginning," Zurbuchen said in a statement. "Cassini's discovery of ocean worlds at Titan and Enceladus changed everything, shaking our views to the core about surprising places to search for potential life beyond Earth."
After sending its final data set, Cassini lost contact with NASA at approximately 7:55 a.m. ET Friday. Prior to bowing out forever, Cassini enjoyed 22 weekly dives (which NASA dubbed its "Grand Finale" dives) between the planet and its rings. "What a way to go," Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena said. "Truly a blaze of glory."
Cassini kicked off its 13-year run with a Cape Canaveral launch back in 1997. As a point of reference for how long ago that was, enjoy this:
All told, Cassini traveled 4.9 billion miles and executed 2.5 million commands during its mission. A total of 635 GB of scientific data was collected, leading to the publication of nearly 4,000 scientific papers. Cassini—which united 27 nations in the pursuit of knowledge—also discovered six named moons.
Now, NASA says, scientists will begin examining Cassini's final observations for more discoveries about the planet.