News, Science

Cassini: Mission Accomplished

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Photo of Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The Cassini space probe’s 20-year mission to Saturn is over. On September 15, at 4:55 a.m. Eastern Time on Earth, the spacecraft entered the atmosphere around Saturn. Moments later, it was destroyed.

Cassini was launched in 1997. It had been orbiting Saturn for the past 13 years. During that time, it sent back enormous amounts of information to scientists on Earth, and thousands of images of the planet, its rings and its moons.

Thanks to Cassini, scientists have made many interesting discoveries. One of the most important discoveries is that two of Saturn’s moons could have all the necessary ingredients to support life.  (See: TKN article “Cassini Spacecraft Begins Last Stage of 20-Year Mission.“)

Cassini was still doing a good job, but it was running out of fuel. The scientists in charge of the mission were afraid it would crash land on Saturn or one of its moons, so they decided to destroy it first.

Cassini probably still carried microbes (microscopic living organisms) from Earth. Those microbes could have contaminated the environment wherever the spacecraft landed. To protect Saturn, the scientists gave Cassini instructions to enter the planet’s atmosphere, where it would burn up.

The Cassini mission was an international project. Thousands of scientists had worked on it over the years, and some had been with the mission since the beginning. They were sad to see it end, but they know that the information Cassini sent back from Saturn and its moons will provide new discoveries for many years.

Related Links:

3D Interactive Cassini Mission (Note: This is really good, but it does involve downloading software.)

Overview of mission.

100 images of Cassini’s mission to Saturn.

Cassini program manager at JPL, Earl Maize, left, and spacecraft operations team manager for the Cassini mission at Saturn, Julie Webster embrace after the Cassini spacecraft plunged into Saturn, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS
By Kathleen Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
The article states, “One of the most important discoveries is that two of Saturn’s moons could have all the necessary ingredients to support life.” What are the ‘necessary ingredients’ for life? In your opinion, is this all that you need? Is there anything else that’s needed? Why or why not?

Reading Prompt: Extending Understanding
While the likelihood of finding green aliens with big bulging eyes is small, many people believe that life exists on other planets. What do you think?

Junior
Extend understanding of texts by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

Intermediate
Extend understanding of texts, including increasingly complex or difficult texts, by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

Language Feature: Verb Tense
Verbs (action words) are mostly written in the past, present and future tense. For example:
1. Susan walked to school yesterday. (past tense)
2. Eyal plays with the blue ball at recess. (present tense)
3. Leo will bring his new lunch bag to school tomorrow. (future tense)

Find examples of past, present and future tenses in the article. In which tense is the article mostly written?