NASA is about to send one of its spacecraft that has been researching Saturn to a fiery death, to avoid any alien life forms contaminating surrounding planets.
The Cassini spacecraft is due to complete its 13-year mission in mid-September – sending data back to scientists until the very end.
The space experts have said the mission has been “insanely, wildly, beautifully successful,” sending more information from Saturn than ever before.
On the fatal day Cassini will make a final dive between the planet’s rings, toward its surface, causing it to burn up in the atmosphere.
When the craft was first sent into space no one expected it to be such a success. It discovered that Saturn has seasons, that the moon “Titan” looks like Earth in its early stages, and that another moon “Enceladus” could support life.
“The mission has been insanely, wildly, beautifully successful, and it’s coming to an end in about two weeks,” Cassini program scientist, Curt Niebur said.
Data will be sent back to Earth up until the end when it is expected to lose contact at 10:54 a.m. (GMT) according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Cassini’s mission has sent information back since July 2004 on Saturn’s 62 known moons, and recorded enough data for approximately 4,000 scientific papers.
But now Cassini’s days are finally numbered. Fuel is low and to avoid any chance of the craft ever colliding with one of the many moons that has the potential of supporting indigenous microbial life, it is being sent in a nose dive into Saturn.
In doing this, NASA believes it will destroy any microbes that hitched a ride from Earth and survived all this time, to avoid any unintended contamination of the moons they might later want to study.