NASA's 20-year Cassini mission is finally coming to a close. After years of orbiting around the Saturn system and collecting some stellar scientific data, the spacecraft is on a path of certain destruction: on Sunday, the probe officially began the last leg of its mission, which will eventually bring it so close to Saturn that the planet's gravity will drag it down and burn it to vapour.
After 20 years, thousands of gorgeous photos, and a whole lot of science, the Cassini spacecraft is finally ready to retire. But there'll be no relaxing days on the beach for this old spacecraft; instead, it will go out in a blaze of glory. More specifically, NASA's planning to crash it into Saturn's atmosphere, where it will melt and vaporize.
At 7:41 p.m. local time, the Tianzhou 1 robotic cargo ship blasted off on a Long March 7 rocket from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on Hainan Island. Now in orbit, it will soon rendezvous with the Tiangong 2 space station, in yet another first for the Chinese space program.
Although the night sky often seems so peaceful and still, a closer look reveals constant movement and change. The Intermediate Palomar Transient Factory (iPTF) in California looks for ephemeral phenomena in the heavens, like stars that fluctuate in brightness, or planets passing in front of their stars.