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Cassini, the NASA spacecraft that expanded the search for life beyond Earth, dies in Saturn’s sky

Cassini, the NASA spacecraft that expanded the search for life beyond Earth, dies in Saturn’s sky

Cassini, the NASA spacecraft whose breakthrough discoveries about Saturn and its many moons revolutionized the search for life beyond Earth, disintegrated Friday morning in the skies above the ringed planet. It was one month shy of its 20th anniversary in space.

The explorer’s death was swift and deliberate. Traveling at 76,000 mph, it hurtled into the planet’s atmosphere shortly after 3:30 a.m. Pacific time and stopped communicating with Earth one minute later, according to NASA’s carefully choreographed plan. Within three more minutes, Cassini’s 12 scientific instruments were torn apart. Then they melted. Then they vaporized.

An investigator to the end, the spacecraft...

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