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Nasa's Cassini probe burns up like a meteor on 'death plunge' into Saturn

More than 1,500 people jammed Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California to watch.

Space Cassini Saturn Photo Gallery Plumes of water ice and vapour from the south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus. Source: AP/PA Images


The craft disintegrated in the skies above Saturn today, following a remarkable journey of 20 years.

Radio signals from the spacecraft — a final burst of scientific data — came to an abrupt halt this afternoon.

The radio waves went flat, and the spacecraft fell silent.

Space Saturn Cassini Finale Saturn's shadow on its rings as seen from the Cassini spacecraft. The image was taken in February. Source: AP/PA Images

Cassini actually burned up like a meteor 83 minutes earlier, as it dove through Saturn’s atmosphere, becoming one with the planet it set out in 1997 to explore. But it took that long for the last signal to arrive at Earth.

More than 1,500 people, many of them past and present team members, jammed Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California for what was described as both a vigil and celebration. Even more gathered at nearby California Institute of Technology.

The only spacecraft to ever orbit Saturn, Cassini showed the planet, its rings and moons up close in all their glory. Ocean worlds were unveiled on the moons Enceladus and Titan, which could possibly harbour life.

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Space Saturn Cassini Finale The newly assembled Cassini Saturn probe undergoes vibration and thermal testing in 1996. Source: AP/PA Images

Cassini snapped its “last memento photos” of the Saturn system yesterday.

Ever dutiful to the end, it also sampled Saturn’s atmosphere this morning as it made its final, fateful plunge.

Read: Is there life on Jupiter’s moons? Ireland’s helping to find out >

Read: A NASA spacecraft has witnessed the birth of a ‘new moon’ in the rings of Saturn >

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