Earth received a final signal from Cassini, NASA's Saturn-studying spacecraft, at 7:55 a.m. EST, eight minutes after it hurtled and burned into the ringed planet's atmosphere. The craft had just finished a series of "grand finale" passes around the Saturn—the closest it had ever made—to collect data before one final "goodbye kiss" pass, in which the planet's gravity pulled it out of orbit.
As Cassini reached the end of its death dive, its project manager announced, "You just heard the signal from the spacecraft is gone, and within the next 45 seconds, so will be the spacecraft." This rather heavy pronouncement was met with a quiet celebration of head nods, hugs, and a spattering of applause at the control center.
"Cassini showed us the beauty of Saturn," NASA wrote on Twitter afterward. "It revealed the best in us. Now it's up to us to keep exploring."
Neil DeGrasse Tyson wrote, "Cassini gave us Saturn, but also gave us Earth—as only deep space could reveal: Small. Frail. Lonely. Steeped in darkness."
All said, it was an intensely introspective, emotional death.
Cassini gave us Saturn, but also gave us Earth — as only deep space could reveal: Small. Frail. Lonely. Steeped in darkness. pic.twitter.com/zjF6jNUFyU— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) September 14, 2017
Cassini had been out in the solar system since 1997, surviving two missions through 20 years in space and 13 among Saturn and its moons. Cassini delivered invaluable data to NASA, including proof of standing liquid on Saturn's moon Titan—the only proven body of liquid in the solar system besides Earth. It also discovered that Enceladus, another moon, could have the makings of organic life beneath its icy surface.
NASA considered keeping Cassini in a simple orbit around Saturn, but feared it would collide with one of the moons. So we leave you with this—one of the last images, unedited, Cassini took before Earth lost its signal:
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
From: Esquire US