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updated: 9/15/2017 8:06 AM

The latest: NASA's Cassini spacecraft burns up over Saturn

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  • NASA's Cassini spacecraft is no more: It disintegrated in the skies above Saturn early Friday.

    NASA's Cassini spacecraft is no more: It disintegrated in the skies above Saturn early Friday.
    Associated Press

  • This May 4, 2014 image made available by NASA shows the persistent hexagonal cloud pattern on Saturn's north pole, as seen from the Cassini spacecraft. The hexagon is similar to Earth's polar vortex, which has winds blowing in a circular pattern around the polar region, and is nearly 25,000 kilometers (15,000 miles) across. Nearly four Earths could fit inside it. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute via AP)

    This May 4, 2014 image made available by NASA shows the persistent hexagonal cloud pattern on Saturn's north pole, as seen from the Cassini spacecraft. The hexagon is similar to Earth's polar vortex, which has winds blowing in a circular pattern around the polar region, and is nearly 25,000 kilometers (15,000 miles) across. Nearly four Earths could fit inside it. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute via AP)
    Associated Press

  • This Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017 image taken using the CL1 and RED filters and made available Thursday by NASA shows Saturn's rings, as seen from the Cassini spacecraft. NASA's Cassini spacecraft at Saturn is closing in on its fiery finish, following a remarkable journey of 20 years. Cassini is on course to plunge through Saturn's atmosphere and vaporize like a meteor Friday morning. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute via AP)

    This Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017 image taken using the CL1 and RED filters and made available Thursday by NASA shows Saturn's rings, as seen from the Cassini spacecraft. NASA's Cassini spacecraft at Saturn is closing in on its fiery finish, following a remarkable journey of 20 years. Cassini is on course to plunge through Saturn's atmosphere and vaporize like a meteor Friday morning. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute via AP)
    Associated Press

  • This Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017 image taken using the CL1 and RED filters and made available Thursday by NASA shows Saturn's moon Titan, as seen from the Cassini spacecraft. NASA's Cassini spacecraft at Saturn is closing in on its fiery finish, following a remarkable journey of 20 years. Cassini is on course to plunge through Saturn's atmosphere and vaporize like a meteor Friday morning. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute via AP)

    This Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017 image taken using the CL1 and RED filters and made available Thursday by NASA shows Saturn's moon Titan, as seen from the Cassini spacecraft. NASA's Cassini spacecraft at Saturn is closing in on its fiery finish, following a remarkable journey of 20 years. Cassini is on course to plunge through Saturn's atmosphere and vaporize like a meteor Friday morning. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute via AP)
    Associated Press

  • This Feb. 17, 2005 image made available by NASA shows plumes of water ice and vapor from the south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus. The activity is understood to originate from the moon's subsurface ocean of salty liquid water, which is venting into space. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute via AP)

    This Feb. 17, 2005 image made available by NASA shows plumes of water ice and vapor from the south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus. The activity is understood to originate from the moon's subsurface ocean of salty liquid water, which is venting into space. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute via AP)
    Associated Press

  • This May 21, 2015 image made available by NASA shows Saturn's moon Dione crossing the face of the gas giant, in a phenomenon astronomers call a transit. Transits play an important role in astronomy and can be used to study the orbits of planets and their atmospheres, both in our solar system and in others. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute via AP)

    This May 21, 2015 image made available by NASA shows Saturn's moon Dione crossing the face of the gas giant, in a phenomenon astronomers call a transit. Transits play an important role in astronomy and can be used to study the orbits of planets and their atmospheres, both in our solar system and in others. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute via AP)
    Associated Press

 
 

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - The Latest on the Cassini spacecraft at Saturn:

6:55 a.m.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is no more: It disintegrated in the skies above Saturn early Friday, following a remarkable journey of 20 years.

Confirmation of Cassini's expected demise came about 6:55 a.m. That's when radio signals from the spacecraft - a final burst of scientific data - came to an abrupt halt. The radio waves went flat, and the spacecraft fell silent.

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 JPL for what's 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 us the planet, its rings and moons up close in all their glory. Perhaps most tantalizing, ocean worlds were unveiled on the moons Enceladus and Titan, which could possibly harbor life.

Cassini snapped its "last memento photos" of the Saturn system Thursday. Ever dutiful to the end, it sampled Saturn's atmosphere Friday morning as it made its final, fateful plunge.

6 a.m.

By now, NASA's Cassini spacecraft at Saturn should be disintegrated in the sky.

But the confirmation will take 83 minutes to reach Earth, a billion miles away.

So flight controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are still at their posts early Friday morning, watching as the final radio signals roll in from Cassini.

Cassini was set on a course to plunge through Saturn's atmosphere and vaporize like a meteor Friday morning.

The only spacecraft to ever orbit Saturn, Cassini showed us the planet, its rings and moons up close in all their glory.

Cassini departed Earth in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004. Its hitchhiking companion, Huygens, landed on the moon Titan in 2005. Nothing from Earth has landed farther.

2:30 a.m.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft at Saturn is closing in on its fiery finish, following a remarkable journey of 20 years.

Cassini is on course to plunge through Saturn's atmosphere and vaporize like a meteor Friday morning.

Flight controllers at California's Jet Propulsion Laboratory expect one last burst of scientific data from Cassini, before the radio waves go flat - and the spacecraft falls silent.

The only spacecraft to ever orbit Saturn, Cassini showed us the planet, its rings and moons up close in all their glory.

Cassini departed Earth in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004. Its hitchhiking companion, Huygens, landed on the moon Titan in 2005. Nothing from Earth has landed farther.

Team members have already said their goodbyes, but will raise glasses in a final salute.

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