NASA’s Cassini spacecraft kept transmitting data until the very last moment as it plunged into the Saturn’s atmosphere today.
What time will Cassini crash into Saturn?
Cassini’s radio transmissions disappeared at 7.55am EDT (12.55pm BST) as Cassini lost contact with Earth once and for all.
NASA tweeted: “Earth received Cassini Saturn’s final signal at 7:55am ET. Cassini is now part of the planet it studied. Thanks for the science.”
But the time of death at Saturn would have actually been just over an hour and 20 minutes before this moment.
This is because the signals, moving at the speed of light, took more than 80 minutes to travel the billion miles that separate Saturn and Earth.
Cassini’s Twitter account said: “Every time we see Saturn in the night sky, we’ll remember. We’ll smile. And we’ll want to go back.”
Cassini’s final transmissions are expected to include unprecedented data from the atmosphere’s upper fringe about 1,190 miles above Saturn’s cloud tops.
The NASA coverage of the Cassini’s grand finale began on NASA TV at 7am EDT (noon BST) today. WATCH NASA CASSINI LIVE STEAM
Since Cassini is running low on fuel, NASA is crashing it into Saturn to avoid any chance the spacecraft could someday contaminate Titan, Enceladus or another moon with the potential for microbial life.
Cassini’s final dive ends a mission that gave scientists a ringside seat to the sixth planet from the Sun.
The spacecraft’s discoveries included seasonal changes on Saturn, a hexagon-shaped pattern on the north pole and the moon Titan’s resemblance to a primordial Earth.
Cassini also found a global ocean on the moon Enceladus, with ice plumes spouting from its surface. Enceladus has become a promising lead in the search for places where life could exist outside Earth.
Dr Daniel Brown, an astronomy expert at Nottingham Trent University, said the mission had discovered one of the possible places for life to exist in the deep ice enclosed oceans of Enceladus.
He said: “Amazing and unexpected are the things the now two decade long Cassini mission discovered. But it’s not all over.
“In its final descent into Saturn, Cassini might finally understand Saturn’s rotation and even come up with more surprises.
“This mission has been packed with jaw dropping images and several discoveries made by chance. Its end is only the beginning.”
Cassini is a cooperative project between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.