Opinion: A eulogy for Cassini-Huygens

Kyle Fitch

The Cassini-Huygens satellite is one of the most significant that humankind has launched, and its important role in the exploration of Saturn is coming to an end.

It launched on Oct. 15, 1997, making it a historically pertinent piece of science that’s older than me.

The missions the Cassini-Huygens has went through have not been easy. The satellite has made 2.5 million commands, collecting 635 gigabytes of scientific data and taking 453,048 photos throughout its journey.

It will complete its final pass of Saturn, totaling 294 flybys over the course of its life.

Cassini-Huygens is also a frontrunner when it comes to discovery; the satellite discovered and named six moons and discovered two oceans while in space, one on Titan and one on Enceladus, both Saturn’s moons.

While discovery was Cassini-Huygens’ job, scientists played a critical role in utilizing the data produced by the satellite. Cassini-Huygens contributed to nearly 4,000 scientific publications.

The total distance covered by Cassini-Huygens throughout its life is staggering.

The average total distance an American walks in their entire life is about 2 million miles. Comparatively speaking, the total distance marked on Cassini-Huygens’ log will be 4.9 billion miles at the end of the mission.

After the satellite’s extensive travels, Cassini-Huygens is on its last journey.

They plan to drop it into Saturn’s atmosphere, the planet it has been orbiting for years, succumbing to the natural gravitational pull of Saturn that it’s been dodging for about 15 years.

Now, the satellite will make its grave.

When scientists hand Saturn the controls to Cassini-Huygens and let it complete the satellite’s “final kiss,” it will be traveling at 69,368 mph when they lose signal.

Saturn’s gravitational pull is nearly twice that of Earth, so the final speed of Cassini-Huygen’s plummet will be immense. The final hit on Saturn’s surface should be more than enough to trigger the complete destruction of the Cassini-Huygens satellite.

For an object that produced so much pertinent information for the field of science, giving Cassini-Huygens attention before it makes its final mission is the least the scientific community can do.

Kyle Fitch is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].